Covid-19

Keeping your workplace and business healthy

The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has become a major source of uncertainty for global markets. There has been widespread a global impact. But please remember this will come to an end, and medical experts around the world are on the case.

 

Here at the TTF we will be monitoring the spread of the virus on behalf of our membership, and will be sharing the latest information and advice from experts to keep yourself, your employees, and customers feeling confident, assured, safe, healthy, and productive.

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways, which is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

 

The symptoms of coronavirus are a cough, a high temperature, and shortness of breath, but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. The symptoms are similar to other illnesses that are much more common, such as cold and flu.

 

The UK Government’s advice is now to limit contact where possible, including working from home and avoiding public places. If you show symptoms, stay away from public places (self-isolate), and consult the 111 online coronavirus service or a medical professional.

 

To find out more about Covid-19, including answers to the most common questions about the virus, we suggest you use the NHS website. If you are concerned about any symptoms you may be showing, please contact NHS 111.

ASK THE EXPERTS

Need further advice on Covid-19? Call the NHS 111 line.

What should I do as a business

The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Escalating quarantine measures which have come into force since the beginning of March are aimed at reducing the chances of exposure.

 

Many businesses considered to be non-essential have been closed, for example, all restaurants and pubs since 16 March. Only businesses specifically exempted from the ban are able to stay open.  This is to support social distancing measures.

 

Public Health England (PHE) continue to recommend that the following general cold and flu precautions are taken to help prevent people from catching and spreading COVID-19:

 

  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away
  • wash your hands with soap and water often – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
  • try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
  • do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

 

However these practices are no longer enough. Businesses unable to put in place social distancing measures and keep their workers at least 2 metres apart, as well as ensure sufficient hygiene practices, must close.

 

How do these measures apply to the manufacturing and construction sectors

 

Guidance from Government on how quarantine measures apply to the manufacturing and construction sectors is evolving, and there remain some differences between national and devolved Governments in the UK.

 

The Government’s key statement during this time has been that ‘construction sites are able to stay open as long as they can do so safely’, and this is reinforced by the recent publication of the UK Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, Our plan to rebuild.

 

These documents do not radically change the Government strategy for businesses in England nor do they contradict the CLC site operating guidelines which TTF have been recommending to members since mid-April.

 

As expected, the documents reiterate that formal assessments must be undertaken to determine the COVID19 risk in each aspect of the business although, the fundamental messages about actions required remain the same:

  • Anyone who can work from home should continue to do so
  • Anyone with symptoms should not return to work, and should instead self-isolate, as should members of their household.
  • Maintaining 2m distances throughout the working day
  • Guidance and increased facilities for hand washing and hygiene
  • Frequent cleaning of shared equipment and contact points

 

This means in order to commence or continue operations businesses must comply with new “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines.

 

Advice for England

 

We believe TTF members will find these documents a logical and useful way to help undertake COVID19 risk assessments and demonstrate to staff, customers and if necessary HSE inspectors that the required actions have been put in place throughout the business. TTF members will probably find the most relevant of the documents to be:

(1) Factories, plants and warehouses, (2) Offices and contact centres, (3)Vehicles, and (4) where members have trade or retail counters Shops and branches.

 

It is important to appreciate that many workers will be anxious about the practicalities and safety of a return to work and so each of the above documents includes sections addressing some of these concerns.

 

Businesses should also consider the demographic of their specific workforce, their individual circumstances and vulnerabilities. The ACAS website and the TUC’s report on returning to work provide good insight into these considerations.

 

Advice for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

 

Members with branches in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales who will have to wait a little longer before returning to work. HSE the Health and Safety Executive have published two new documents as below.

 

Working safely during the coronavirus outbreak – a short guide (PDF)

Talking with your workers about working safely during the coronavirus outbreak (PDF)

 

Given HSE have cross border responsibility for workplace safety it is reasonable to assume any guidance documents from Wales or Scotland coming along later will also use this base advice. Well worth a read for anyone looking to develop national return to work plans.

 

Build UK and the Construction Leadership Council released a revised guide on Site Operating Procedures (v3) on 15 April to help keep workers safe and minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

 

Managing risks while travelling

 

With a quarantine in place, all non-essential travel is no longer allowed. The only time you should be travelling is if you have to for work. Make sure to issue your employees with letters for this purpose, showing they are completing essential work.

 

Check the UK Government website if you are travelling internationally. Advice is in place for what to do if you have returned in the last 14 days from specified countries or areas and this is being updated on an ongoing basis.

 

What else should employers do to keep safe

 

The UK Government is regularly updating information for businesses and employers on what actions they should take in relation to Covid-19. We will also continue to check and update this page for short insights.

 

We also advise our members to check if they qualify for relief as part of the Government’s ongoing Covid-19 support measures, including loans, support for employees wages, and more, as detailed in the next section.

How is Government supporting business

Since the onset and escalation of Covid-19, the Government has been seeking to respond to the needs of businesses disrupted by measures such as calls to stay at home.

 

The first set of these announcements came during the Budget on 12 March 2020. This included a £12bn response package, supporting public services such as the NHS, supporting the ability of SME’s to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay, and ensuring low-interest loans for businesses. This followed on from steps taken by the Bank of England to ease monetary policy, including cutting rates, offering cheap funding to banks, and lowering capital buffers to ensure lending continues.

 

As the scale of the epidemic and the impact of efforts to ‘flatten the curve’ become clear, the Government announced £350bn in further support for businesses on 17 March 2020. The most significant aspect of this announcement was the £330bn in state backed loans for all businesses through the banking system with the Bank of England.

 

These have been further announcements of support since then including 100% Government supported loans for SMEs, the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme till October, and more. Below we’re highlighting the key areas of support from Government which businesses in the timber industry are most likely to find useful. You can find the full set of business relief measures on Gov.Uk.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

 

The scheme is intended to be an alternative to redundancy. The employee remains on your books, while the Government reimburses you for 80% of their wages. This alternative requires furloughing the respective employee.

 

Who is eligible for the scheme?

 

This is available to all UK businesses. To be eligible, employers must have created and started a PAYE payroll scheme on or before 28 February 2020 and have a UK bank account.

 

What is flexible fulough? 

 

From 1 July 2020, your employer will be able to bring you back to work on a part-time basis. Your employer will have to pay your wage for any hours that you are in work.

 

There’s no limit on the number of hours you can work. For example, If you work a 40-hour week and your employer wants to, it can get you to work 39 hours and then furlough you for the remaining hour. The amount of time you work each week can also vary over the month, with employers varying it week by week. 

 

As well as this, employers will start to contribute more to the payments of their furloughed staff. 

 

  • From August, your employer will be expected to cover national insurance and any pension contributions.
  • From September, the state will pay your employer 70% of your salary, up to £2,190/month and the employer covering the remaining 10%.
  • From October, the state will pay your employer 60% of your salary, up to £1,875/month and the employer covering the remaining 20%.

 

Coronavirus calculator

 

You can now calculate how much you have to pay your furloughed employees for hours on furlough, how much you can claim for employer NICs and pension contributions and how much you can claim back. Click here

 

How can my business access the scheme?

 

You will need to:

  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify your employees of this change. Set this out in writing.
  • remember 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 the new online portal, currently being developed (HMRC will set out further details on the information required).

 

Can my employee continue to complete work for me while furloughed?

 

Not currently. If an employee is working, including if they are placed on reduced hours, or for reduced pay, they will not be eligible for this scheme and you will have to continue paying the employee through your payroll and pay their salary subject to the terms of the employment contract you agreed.

 

This may however change from the end of August, when the Government has indicated that employees may be able to return as part time workers on furlough, provided the employer also contributes to their wages.

 

How much will I be reimbursed?

 

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month and is working urgently to set up a system for reimbursement.

 

The associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage are included. However, fees, commission and bonuses should not be included.”

 

What about the remaining 20% of my employees’ wages?

 

Employers are not obliged to top up the remaining 20% but employers can ask employees for their consent to this reduction in their wages, and it is expected that they will consent if this is considered preferable to redundancy or unpaid leave.

 

How does the scheme work for employees whose pay has varied?

 

If the employee has been employed for a full twelve months prior to the claim, you can claim for the higher of either:

 

  • the same month’s earning from the previous year
  • average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 tax year

 

If the employee has been employed for less than a year, you can claim for an average of their monthly earnings since they started work.

 

How do I make a claim?

 

HMRC have made an online portal.

 

In order to make a claim you should keep strong records, and you will need to provide:

 

  • Your ePAYE reference number
  • The number of employees being furloughed
  • The claim period start and end date
  • The amount claimed (per the minimum length of furloughing of three weeks)
  • Your bank account number and sort code
  • Your contact name
  • Your phone number

 

How long will the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme run for?

 

The intention is for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended to last until the end of October. However, please note that there will be a change from 1 September 2020 which will allow employees to return part time provided employers pay for some of their wages.

 

More information:

 

Claim for wage costs through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, our article on accessing the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and more can be found in the TTF News Section.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)

How long will this scheme run for?

 

The scheme went live on Monday 23 March and will initially run for six months. 

 

Am I eligible?

 

All UK based businesses with an annual turnover of below £45m can apply. It remains important your borrowing proposal is considered viable by the lender. 

 

The lender must believe this loan will enable your business to trade out of any short-to-medium term difficulty. 

 

How can I access the scheme?

 

CBILS is available through the British Business Bank’s 40+ accredited lenders, which are listed on the British Business Bank website here

 

In the first instance, you should approach your own provider – ideally via the lender’s website. You may also consider approaching other lenders if you are unable to access the finance you need. 

 

Are there fees to borrow under CBILS?

 

There is no guarantee fee for SMEs to use the CBILS scheme. Instead, lenders will pay a fee to access the scheme. 

I am getting other kinds of aid to help respond to COVID-19 – can I still get a loan? 

 

Yes, you are still eligible for the loan scheme. Receiving business rate reliefs or grants unrelated to the CBIL scheme does not affect eligibility. 

 

More information: 

 

For more information on the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, please visit the British Bank’s page and their website and read our article on Accessing the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Support for businesses paying tax

All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559.

Statutory sick pay relief package for SMEs

If you have fewer than 250 employees, you will be able to claim back statutory sick pay for any employee who has claimed statutory sick pay as a result of Covid-19. The mechanism for how this will work is still being arranged, however ensure you keep strong records during this time.

New restructuring tools to be added to insolvency law

The changes being made include:

  • Giving companies greater breathing space from creditors seeking to ensure their debts for a period of time while they seek a rescue or restructure;
  • Protecting their supplies to allow them to continue trading during this period; and;
  • A new restructuring plan, which will bind creditors

 

Key safeguards for creditors and suppliers will be included to ensure they are paid, while existing laws against fraudulent trading and the threat of director disqualification will continue to act as an effective deterrent against reckless misuse of these new measures.

 

Wrongful trading provisions are also being suspended retrospectively from 1 March 2020 for three months so directors can keep their businesses going without the threat of personal liability.

 

More information: 

 

You can find out more in Business Secretary, Alok Sharma’s announcement on the 28 March and our article on the New Restructuring Tools to be added to Insolvency Law.

Deferral of VAT payments

When will deferral of VAT payments apply? 

 

Deferral will apply to all VAT payments due between 20 March and 30 June, with an option to defer payments up until 31 March 2021.

 

Annual payments and payments on account due between 20 March and end of June can also be deferred.

 

Am I eligible?

 

All VAT-registered UK businesses are eligible.

 

How do I access it?

 

This is an automatic offer with no applications required. UK Registered businesses will not need to make VAT payments normally due with VAT returns during this period.

 

Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020-21 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.

 

Do I need to cancel my direct debit if I want my VAT payment to be deferred?

 

Businesses who normally pay by direct debit should cancel their direct debit with their bank if they wish to defer their VAT payments. HMRC has now confirmed that it will not automatically cancel collection of VAT payments by direct debit.

 

Businesses will also need to remember to reinstate their direct debit mandate once the deferral is over and to make arrangements to pay the accumulated VAT by the end of the 2020/21 tax year.

 

Will interest be due if payment has been deferred? 

 

HMRC will be inhibiting all default surcharges and interest will not be accrued on amounts deferred as a result of this announcement.

 

Would there be penalties if I do not render my VAT on time? 

 

HMRC said that while surcharges would be “inhibited” during the deferral period, businesses need to continue to render their VAT return on time.

 

If you’re in temporary financial distress because of COVID-19

 

If you are experiencing financial difficulties more help is available from HMRC’s Time to Pay service.

 

More information:

 

For more information please read the Government’s guidance on deferring VAT payments and HM Government’s Business Support page on VAT deferral.

Deferral of Self-Assessment payment

When does the deferral of income tax apply? 

 

The deferral for income tax self assessment applies to the second payment on account for 2019/20 due on 31 July 2020 which is deferred until 31 January 2021. This is an automatic offer and no application is required.

 

Am I eligible? 

 

All taxpayers with a second self-assessment payment on account due on 31 July 2020 can defer payment until 31 January 2021. It is not necessary to be self-employed to be eligible for the deferral.

 

How do I access it?

 

This is an automatic offer with no applications required. No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged if you defer payment of your July 2020 payment on account until January 2021.

 

HMRC have also scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of coronavirus and have outstanding tax liabilities.

 

When can I access it?

 

On 31 July 2020 when your self-assessment payment on account, ordinarily due to be paid on that date, may be deferred until 31 January 2021.

 

Do I have to defer my tax payment? 

 

The deferral is optional. Taxpayers can still pay the July payment if they wish to avoid a larger payment in January 2021.

 

Do I need to cancel my direct debit? 

 

Any taxpayer who wishes to defer payment needs to cancel any direct debit set up for this payment on account and ensure they reinstate it in time for the January 2021 payment.

 

Should I still file my self assessment returns?

 

Self assessment returns should still be filed by their due date and it may be advantageous to file the 2019/20 return as soon as possible after 5 April 2020.

 

This might help facilitate the tax payment due in January 2021 and highlight any refund due, including as a result of any loss relief available.

 

If you’re in temporary financial distress because of COVID-19

 

If you are experiencing financial difficulties more help is available from HMRC’s Time to Pay service.

 

More information: 

 

For more information, please see the Government’s page on being unable to pay your tax bill on time, and the Government’s Support for Businesses page.

Bounce Back Loans

What are ‘Bounce Back Loans’?

 

This scheme aims to help small and medium-sized businesses borrow quickly. Loans of between £2,000 and £50,000 are on offer, with the Government to guarantee 100% of the loan with no fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.

 

How do I apply?

 

Similar to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme, firms will be able to access these loans through a network of accredited lenders.

 
 
When will these loans become available?
 
 

The scheme is set to launch on 4 May 2020, following the announcement of the scheme by Chancellor Rishi Sunak at the daily press conference on Monday 27 April 2020.

How is this affecting the timber industry?

According to our most recent survey, the timber trade is facing a significant decrease in demand for products and services as most respondents believe the COVID-19 pandemic is a high to severe level threat to their company and sector.

 

The impact from the pandemic has been immediate as respondents have reported a decrease to their cash flow and many customers and suppliers have already asked for an extension to their payment.

 

Although, the full effects are too early to be measured for some of the respondents, most believe that this will have long-term implications on their company and the whole supply chain as they expect to be facing disruption for at least six months.

 

This reflects construction sites closing around the country, with the new build sector particularly impacted as major house builders, such as Persimmons, choosing to temporarily close most sites – though this trend has been reversing since late April.

 

Most respondents have reacted positively to the Government’s support so far, with almost three quarters saying that it was helpful in our second survey.

 

Many of the respondents have declared that they have sought to pursue the Government mechanisms available, with 85% applying for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme according to this survey, conducted in the first week of April.

 

Read the full report here. 

 

We also have worked with our partners in the Confederation of Timber Industries to produce a report on how the timber supply chain is being affected by COVID-19. Largely, firms are expecting to return to work in May in concert with Government advice and with the rest of the construction industry. View the article and report here.

 

 

Construction Products Association (CPA) Daily Updates

 

The CPA are producing reports on the latest news and financial analysis of Covid-19 on the UK economy and the impact this will have on the construction sector.

 

The CPA’s latest report, Construction Industry Scenarios 2020-2021, lays out a number of likely scenarios that would affect the construction industry. Their main scenario is that construction output will fall by 25% during 2020 before recovery in 2021 during which construction output rises by 26% from a low base.

 

The CPA’s main scenario anticipates large falls in activity for this year in private housing (-42%), commercial (-36%) and private housing rm&i (-35%). Despite this, in 2021 the largest growth rates are expected to be in infrastructure (+40%), private housing (+36.5%) and private housing rm&i (+32%). The rising growth of construction output is expected to be gradual yet activity will still be considerably higher than in the same month one year earlier.

 

The CPA have also released the Potential COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Economic and Construction Impacts report.

 

The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Manufacturing PMI for May rose to 40.7 in May, up from a record low of 32.6 in April but it still signalled a marked deterioration in overall operating conditions.

 

According to the HMRC published on 11 June, 1.1 million UK firms have furloughed 8.7 million employees at a total cost to the government of £17.5 billion up to 31 May. Within the construction industry (contractors), 154,400 UK construction firms have furloughed 679,600 employees at a cost (so far) of £1,760 million up to 31 May. It is worth noting that once self-employment and sole traders (ineligible for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, i.e. furloughing) are excluded, 91% of construction firms have used furloughing across 53% of employment in construction.

 

You can read the latest update here.

 

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