Covid-19: business Q&As 

Andy Sanford

The effect of Covid-19 on independent practitioners is varied. Some practices have closed their clinics for the foreseeable future, while others have had to cope with additional workload and struggle with a depleted workforce.

All practices would have had to adapt their policies and use of information technology far more widely for consultations.

Andy Sanford, a partner at tax and advisory firm Blick Rothenberg, answers some of your questions below.

Send your questions to our editorial director Robin Stride at


I have no work for a number of my staff. How do I use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is a temporary scheme to support those workers who would otherwise have been laid-off as a result of the crisis. It is open for at least three months and will be extended if required. 

The scheme is open to all employers operating a PAYE scheme as at 28 February 2020. This scheme does not extend to owners remunerated solely by dividends.

For an employee to be furloughed, they can be undertaking no work for their employer whatsoever. But they must have been on the payroll at 28 February 2020. 

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will reimburse 80% of furloughed worker’s wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employers National Insurance Contributions and minimum auto-enrolment pension contributions on the 80% wage. 

Fees, commission and bonuses are excluded in determining salary costs. An employer can choose to top up the salary of the furloughed employee if they wish to do so. 

The furloughed wage is determined with reference to the 28 February salary of the affected employee or – in the case of employees with variable pay – the higher of the same month’s earnings from the previous year, or the average monthly earnings for the last year.

What are the key practical considerations that I should be thinking of in relation to the CJRS?

Practitioners will need to quickly assess which staff would be appropriate for the CJRS. This will require careful planning and detailed cash flow forecasting.

Identifying furloughed employees will necessitate looking at likely income streams, for which discretionary spend will, no doubt be deferred. The minimum furlough period is three weeks. 

Bearing this in mind, practitioners should factor in whether they will require additional staffing resource in case of sickness.

I have received an email saying that I am entitled to a tax refund as a goodwill payment from HMRC. Is this genuine?

This is a scam. Unfortunately, there has been an increase in the number of scams as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. The following are examples of scams that have been well publicised:

  • Emails telling tax taxpayers they can claim tax refunds to help protect themselves from the Coronavirus outbreak;
  • Text messages telling taxpayers they can claim a goodwill payment from HMRC;
  • Text messages imposing a fine for leaving the house more than one once.

If you receive any of these messages, delete them immediately and report them to 

I am a self-employed practitioner whose earnings have dropped by 80%. I typically earn £80,000 a year. What help can I get?

The self-employed cannot benefit from CJRS. There is a scheme available called the Self-employed Income Support scheme, which will pay the self-employed 80% of average monthly profits over the last three years, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. 

However, you can only claim for this scheme if your normal average trading profits are under £50,000 based on certain key tests. In your circumstances, you will not be able to claim under the scheme.

You will, however, benefit from the deferral of self-assessment tax payments. The Government has deferred the July self-assessment tax payment from July 2020 to 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.

I am behind in my tax payments and have no income coming in. What do you recommend?

We recommend that you contact HMRC to enter into a Time to Pay arrangement. This is a debt-repayment plan. 

In order to enter into such a plan, you need to demonstrate why you need it, and have cash flow forecasts/financial information to demonstrate an ability to repay the tax over a longer time frame.

A dedicated helpline has been set up by HMRC to support businesses and the self-employed. If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to Coronavirus, you should call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 024 1222.

For a practice suffering from a large fall in income, what are your key financial recommendations?

Cash is king! You need to determine what is your essential cash spend today, tomorrow and next week. You may want to consider cancelling direct debits, standing orders and, effectively, turn off the taps to ensure you can keep cash reserves.

Payment terms should be reviewed for all key suppliers and lenders. Banks and hire purchase companies will want to open a dialogue with their customers and have publicly stated they are open to supporting them. Payment holidays and relaxation of covenants should be discussed with your lender. 

Many landlords will be expecting their tenants to be asking for rent reductions for practices that cannot open. Given the prospect of a vacant building, a rent payment holiday may well be acceptable to them. 

Chase any outstanding debtors as hard as you can, and if you do allow extended payment terms to your clients, consider asking for payment up front, if circumstances dictate.