Managing your business through Covid-19

Special report.

More than most businesses owners, independent practitioners are painfully aware of the effects current circumstances will have not only on the nation’s health, but also of the massive impact that Covid-19 will have on finances.

Don’t miss this analysis and latest advice to help your business through these troubled times, written by Vanessa Sanders (right), a partner at specialist medical accountants Stanbridge Associates (Phone: 01522 546606).

Job Retention Scheme

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees who would ordinarily have been terminated during the current circumstances. 

The scheme, which is to start with effect from 1 March 2020, will run initially for three months, with all UK businesses being eligible.

The salary subsidy will be paid through a new HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) system – currently being set up, as existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers – to reimburse 80% of furloughed workers’ salary costs, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. 

There appears to be no limit to the number of employees. It looks likely that the costs will include salaries, pension contributions and Employer National Insurance contributions – although this is to be confirmed.

Furloughed workers are a new class of employees placed on indefinite leave, where the Government reimburses the employer for salary costs. The scheme has been launched as an alternative to redundancies, lay off, unpaid leave or other measures for their employees and will be available for all businesses.

From what we understand, the scheme will cover employees only and not other workers, such as casual staff, contractors or the self-employed. 

For many independent practicioners, this will mean secretarial and other administrative cover by those under self-employed terms will not be covered. But, of course, this may change once the position becomes clearer.

It is not clear whether directors and shareholders of owner-managed companies can put themselves ‘on furlough’, or how it affects zero hours workers (these do not include the self-employed).

It is not compulsory to use this scheme. It can serve as an alternative to a lay-off situation while helping both employees and workers to cover the many costs that are arising as a result of the outbreak. There are also no restrictions to be put into place; businesses of all shapes and sizes will be able to benefit from this.

HMRC will have to create a new IT software system to run the scheme. This will take until April to complete, as it requires a brand-new system to reverse the pay that staff normally paid under PAYE rules.

How to access the scheme 

Employers will need to:

  • Designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers’ and notify your 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 who have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal. HMRC will set out further details on the information required.

When altering the terms of an employment contract, we advise you to speak to your employees and to follow this up with a letter or an email asking them to agree to the changes in writing. 

See the example at the bottom of this article. An employee cannot designate themselves as a furloughed worker.

Should you wish to do so, you can top up their salaries to the full 100%, although this is not compulsory. Ensure that if you have several employees, you follow a consistent approach to ensure there is no possibility of claims for unfair or discriminatory treatment – particularly where staff are employed as part-time.

The scheme does not support situations where employees have agreed to a pay cut or reduced hours but who are still required to work. Currently, there is no option for a hybrid of ‘furlough leave’ and reduced working hours.

Employees will remain on the employer’s payroll and continue to accumulate holiday and service. We do not know if the employer will be required to continue with any benefits in kind such as the provision of motor vehicles.

If you have already been forced to let staff go, you may wish to reinstate them, as the Government will be backdating these measures to 1 March 2020 and has urged employers to take back anyone they have dismissed and convert them to a ‘furlough worker’. Follow the formal written approach outlined above.

It will be essential to communicate effectively to employees, as resentment may arise between employees, as those on ‘furlough leave’ will be receiving 80% of their pay for doing nothing compared to those ill or self-isolating who may only be entitled to Satutory Sick Pay (SSP). 

Additionally, those on ‘furlough leave’ may be disincentivised from informing employers when they are self-isolating or ill because of the adverse pay consequences. 

We advise reminding employees of their obligations to you as an employer of their contractual terms to ensure these are followed. We also advise keeping in touch regularly with employees.

VAT payment deferral

VAT returns will be made as normal. The VAT payment deferral will run from 20 March 2020 to 30 June 2020 and is open to all businesses. This is an automatic process and no application is required. No VAT payments will be required during this period, but any liabilities that accumulate must be paid by the end of the 2020-21 tax year.

VAT refund and reclaims will be paid as normal.

Self-Assessment payment deferral

Payments on account due for payment by 31 July 2020 may be deferred until 31 January 2021. This deferral is open to self-employed individuals only. 

This is an automatic process and no application is required. As soon as is possible, you should aim to complete your return so you are aware of the tax position and exactly what is required to enable you to plan for the payment in January 2021. 

Although unlikely at this late stage in the fiscal year, should Coronavirus have affected your trading profit for the 2019-20 tax year, a review of your payments on account could prove beneficial, as a reclaim of your January payment may be possible.

Both the VAT deferral and Self-Assessment deferral will aid cash flow for businesses in the short term; however, the liabilities will fall due in the future.

Borrowings or financial commitments

If you will struggle to meet your financial commitments or to pay essential bills, ensure you open a dialogue prior to any problems arising.

School fees

Contact the school to understand if they have any facilities in place to assist or what actions they may be taking considering the fact children will be unlikely to return until September.

Paying your rent or mortgage

Mortgage lenders have announced support if you are forced to take time off work because of Coronavirus, including a repayment holiday of up to three months. 

This includes buy-to-let mortgages, although decisions to offer such support will be made on a case-by-case basis. 

Of prime importance is to open a dialogue now to discuss your options if you think you could miss a payment. The larger banks have links on their websites and have sent out several emails urging people to make contact should you start to struggle.

This advice holds true for any loans which remain outstanding and for which you may miss payments.

Business Interruption Loan Scheme

A temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) will be delivered by the British Business Bank to support businesses in accessing bank lending and overdrafts. The Government will be providing lenders a guarantee of 80%, free of charge, on each loan to foster confidence when lending to small and medium-sized enterprises.

The Chancellor has announced that this has been extended to cover loans up to £5m (previously £1.2m) and no interest will be due for the first 12 months. This scheme is expected to be available as of Monday 23 March 2020.

We understand that CBILS will only be available for companies with turnover of up to £45m and is designed for small businesses with a sound business proposal but insufficient security to get a lender comfortable without the Government guarantee. 

The Chancellor is intending to announce further measures this week to ensure that larger and medium-sized companies can also access the credit they need.

Eligible businesses should apply through one of 40 banks that are British Business Bank accredited lenders, which include the main high street banks.

This advice holds true for any loans which remain outstanding and for which you may miss payments.



Employee Name: XXXX

This letter constitutes a variation to your contract of employment, designed to implement and take advantage of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). This CJRS provides a definition of what constitutes Furlough Leave, which we shall be following.   

  1. We agree that from [date] you shall be on Furlough Leave. This means your contract of employment will continue, but that you shall not be required to perform any work. We will pay you [insert number]% of your salary during this period of Furlough Leave.
  1. Your Furlough Leave shall end on the earliest of the following events:(a) the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ending;

(b) either us as your employer, or you as our employee, ceasing to be eligible for funding under the CJRS; or

(c) us, as your employer, deciding to cancel Furlough Leave and bring you back into work.

  1. During your Furlough Leave, you may not work for any other organisation or on your own account. If you do, you must tell us, and you may be liable to repay any sums we have paid you under this CJRS, if we become liable to repay it to the government.
  1. When your Furlough Leave ends, while we will always endeavour to provide you with work, in the event of insufficient work being available, you agree we are entitled to place you on short time or lay you off without any pay except for statutory guarantee payments.
  1. Please be aware that your employment contract terms remain relevant to your employment.


Signed: _________________ Date ___________


Signed: _________________ Date ___________


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