Winter Economy Plan reflection

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Will the Winter Economy Plan help you?

Two weeks have passed since the Winter Economy Plan was announced by the government. This pack of measures includes grants, tax relief and loan extensions designed to keep the economy going through the winter.

Many offer less support than the schemes available over the summer. Undoubtedly some will be tweaked, or replaced, over the coming months to make them more effective. To keep informed of the most up to date support available to businesses, please have a look at our COVID-19 Updates page.

For now, let’s look at the support that has been announced and consider how effective the schemes could be.

Focus on staying open

The government wants us to keep working and keep spending money. As much as possible businesses are being encouraged to continue trading, although home working is the clear preference.

This makes sense. The National Audit Office is estimating the cost of schemes announced on or before 7 August 2020 was £210 billion. They will want as many businesses as possible to remain self sufficient through the winter.

Hospitality is hurting

In the summer, VAT was reduced to 5% for the sale of eat-in food and non-alcoholic drink in hospitality businesses. This came in a couple of weeks before August’s Eat Out to Help Out. The cut seems to have been designed to give restaurants, cafes and bars a little more cash in their pocket per cover – allowing them to re-open with reduced capacity.

This was due to end early in the new year, however with the Winter Economy Plan the 5% VAT rate is now set to stay in place until 31 March 2021. We will have to wait and see what the winter brings before we can say with any certainty when this will end.

Supporting employees

The original ‘furlough’ scheme is coming to an end in October and it is being replaced by a considerably less generous scheme. The replacement has two tiers.

The first is accessible by any employer to help pay for employees who they want to keep, but do not have work for due to coronavirus. To access the scheme employees must have already been on the payroll before September and must continue to work at least 1/3 of their normal hours. The government will then pay 1/3 of the hours they do not work. The employer must pay an additional 1/3 and the Employer’s NIC / pension costs.

Frustratingly, the original announcement made it sound as if the government were going to pay a lot more of an employer’s wage. But in fact, at the most they are paying 1/3 of 2/3 of an employee’s wages. That is just over 22% – a big change from the original furlough scheme’s 80%.

The second tier of support is available when a business must shut because of legally enforced lockdowns. In these cases, employers only need to pay the employer’s NIC / pension and can claim 2/3 of an employee’s normal wage from the government. The employee must not be able to work on this scheme.

Both schemes start from 1st November and we expect the money to start flowing towards the end of November (although the official announcement said early December).

Support for those on low income or unemployed

For those on low income and unable to work, there will be discretionary grants available via local councils as well as income support from the DWP.

Few new grants

Businesses who are forced to close because of lockdowns will be able to access grants to help cover business costs. These will be £1,000 to £1,500 per property, every three weeks. Payment will be triggered by a national decision to close businesses because of coronavirus.

Plan ahead for this to avoid running out of money. If you have to close, would you be able to run your business on £1,000? If not, how would you fund the difference.

More government loans – if you want them

The government have also given us more time to pay certain tax bills:

  • Self assessment tax due 31 January 2021 can be deferred to 31 January 2022.
  • VAT from spring 2020 was due for payment by 31 March 2021. This can now be paid in instalments over 2021/22, needing to be cleared by 31 March 2022.
  • HMRC’s Time to Pay helpline is available to help taxpayers discuss paying off their other taxes.

As well as these extensions, bounce back loan payments can now also be extended. They can be made over ten years instead of five. This almost halves the monthly repayments.

We have also been told that you can have up to three interest only periods of six months and one six month payment holiday. You need to have started making repayments before you can access these reliefs.

These schemes offer respite only. The amount you have to repay does not reduce, but the government are giving you longer to pay off your debt to them, albeit with relatively low rates of interest.. This could be incredibly helpful, but I also fear that business owners will ‘forget’ that they have debts to pay and might run out of money when they are asked to start making their repayments.

How about 2021?

I wonder what our tax rates will look like by the time these coronavirus troubles are past us?

Will the temporary 5% rate end on 31 March as promised by the Chancellor? If industries are suffering to get back on their feet, maybe this reduced rate could be kept for longer, or extended to cover more businesses – for example to include cinema tickets or high street retail. Alternatively, with so much money being spent this year supporting the economy, maybe the standard rate of VAT will need to increase.

There is absolutely no certainty about what next year will bring us, and therefore the same is true of our tax rates. I thought, when writing my previous paragraph that it seemed a little pointless to be making predictions in a time when we see almighty changes about every three months. But that was the point, both tax cuts and increases are possible and believable. Even if nothing else goes wrong between now and the spring.

What we do know, is that we don’t know. Therefore I believe that our focus should be on ensuring we have viable businesses now and doing anything possible to prepare to weather a difficult year. For example, one business has told me they have been making more profit since the 5% VAT rate was brought in, so they are taking that profit to build up their reserves. They can then use this ‘war chest’ money if things get even harder next year.

Keeping informed

Shortly after the Winter Economy plan was announced we held a webinar for clients to explain the new schemes and answer their questions.

To support you over the coming months we will be keeping our COVID-19 updates page up to date with any changes made to the support available, we will also run webinars to explain key announcements and offer clients the opportunity to ask us questions about how the schemes will impact their business.

We are also planning a series of related online events to give us the opportunity to help clients grow even through these tricky trading conditions.

To stay informed, please follow us on one of our social media channels – Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

We hope these online articles help explain what support is available to you, but if you think we have missed anything or could improve the support we are giving please do say. Contact us to ask a question, or offer your suggestions.

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