Coronavirus: An Unprecedented Economic Intervention: Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, VAT Deferral, Income Tax Deferral and Universal Credit

AN UNPRECEDENTED ECONOMIC INTERVENTION

In addition to measures announced in the Budget on 11 March 2020 and subsequently on 17 and 18 March 2020 (see our news releases here and here respectively), the Chancellor’s announcement on 20 March 2020 of a far-reaching package of measures allows businesses in this country to stand by their employees at a time of national emergency. Though this is not a helicopter money policy which would indiscriminately and radically boost the back pocket of workers and employers alike, such direct action by Government to encourage continued employment of people is a really good start. It is though to be read against the sombering order for all cafés, pubs and restaurants (dine-in, not takeaway), cinemas, gyms, nightclubs and leisure centres across the UK, to temporarily close.

Much of the detail is still being worked out and we expect more information to follow, including potentially wider measures to support the self-employed and the freelance economy.

You can continue to follow the latest advice and guidance from government for businesses on its coronavirus pages.

A summary of the practical measures announced by the Chancellor on 20 March 2020:

CORONAVIRUS JOB RETENTION SCHEME

If an employer cannot maintain its current workforce because its operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (Covid-19), the employer can furlough employees and apply for a grant that covers 80% of the usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage. The scheme is designed to protect the UK economy by encouraging continued employment.

Timing
This is a temporary scheme in place for 3 months starting from 1 March 2020, but it may be extended if necessary and employers can use this scheme anytime during this period. The scheme, open to any employer in the United Kingdom, will cover the cost of wages backdated to 1 March 2020 and will be open before the end of April. It can include workers who were in employment on 28 February.

Claiming
To claim under the scheme employers will need to:

  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers’, and notify employees of this change. Changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation.
  • submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal. HMRC will set out further details on the information required.
  • HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. This is in addition to the £4,000 employer’s national insurance allowance.

While HMRC is working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement, we understand existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers. Business that need short-term cash flow support, may benefit from the VAT deferral announced below and may also be eligible to apply for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

Directors [06/04/2020 UPDATE]
As office holders, salaried company directors are eligible to be furloughed and receive support through this scheme. Company directors owe duties to their company which are set out in the Companies Act 2006. Where furloughed directors need to carry out particular duties to fulfil the statutory obligations they owe to their company, they may do so provided they do no more than would reasonably be judged necessary for that purpose, for instance, they should not do work of a kind they would carry out in normal circumstances to generate commercial revenue or provides services to or on behalf of their company.

The government published further details on the intended mechanics of the scheme on 26 March 2020 [06/04/2020 UPDATE].

VAT PAYMENTS

The next quarter of VAT payments will be deferred, meaning businesses will not need to make VAT payments until the end of June 2020. Businesses will then have until the end of the 2020-21 tax year (31 March 2021) to settle any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period.

The deferral applies automatically and businesses do not need to apply for it. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.

Taxpayers will need to cancel their Direct Debit for VAT in order to avoid automatic payments from being made. This will of course need to be re-instigated following the deferral period.

VAT Returns must still be filed on time.

INCOME TAX PAYMENTS ON ACCOUNT

Income Tax payments due on 31 July 2020 under the Self-Assessment system will be deferred to 31 January 2021. This is an automatic offer with no applications required. No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.

This measure will benefit self-employed persons who have historically filed Tax Returns, but self-employed individuals who began trading after 5 April 2019 will not see an immediate benefit.

UNIVERSAL CREDIT

The measures announced by the government thus far fall short of shoring up the previously thriving self-employed- or freelance, economy. The policies seem to be resigned to the fact that some job losses are inevitable, but those affected will be helped to an extent by a marginally more generous welfare system- equivalent to an annual increase of £1,000.

One group of economic agents that will not gain any protection from the new measures is freelancers on relatively high incomes, if they have savings or other household income that would make them ineligible for Universal Credit.

We are doing everything we can to help our business community. If you would like to discuss how the changes or the coronavirus pandemic may affect you or your business, please do not hesitate to contact us on 020 8952 7717 or use our online enquiry form.

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