COVID-19 Business FAQs

Since March 2020, UK businesses have faced a number of pressures due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

These FAQs aim to provide answers to some of the most pressing questions being asked by business owners, as well as directing you to useful sources of further information and support.

Topics covered include: what financial support is available and how businesses can help support their employees and keep them safe.

This information was last updated on 23 November 2021. Please keep checking for further updates.

Government and financial support

1. What government support am I entitled to and how do I access it?

Many of the support schemes introduced at the height of the pandemic have closed, as the economy reopens. However, there are still a number of options for businesses looking for extra help to navigate the coming months.

Recovery Loan Scheme – The Recovery Loan Scheme (RLS) launched on 6 April 2021 and supports access to finance for UK businesses as they recover and grow following the COVID-19 pandemic.

RLS aims to help businesses affected by COVID-19 and can be used for business purposes, including, managing cashflow, investment and growth. It is designed to support businesses that can afford to take out additional finance for these purposes. Businesses who have taken out a CBILS, CLBILS or BBLS facility are able to access the new scheme.

A key aim of the RLS is to improve the terms on offer to businesses, but if a lender can offer a business the choice of a commercial loan on better terms, without requiring the guarantee provided by the RLS, they should do so.

You can borrow between £25,001 and £10 million, from 1 to 6 years. 

At Autumn Budget 2021, the government announced that the Recovery Loan Scheme will be extended by six months to 30 June 2022.

From 1 January 2022, the following changes will come into force:

  • The scheme will only be open to small and medium sized enterprises (turnover less than £45 million)
  • The maximum amount of finance available will be £2 million per business (maximum amount per Group is limited to £6 million)
  • The guarantee coverage that the government will provide to lenders will be reduced to 70%
  • These changes will apply to all offers made from 1 January 2022.

Find out more about the RLS and check eligibility.

Bounce Back Loan Pay As You Grow – Applications for the Bounce Back Loan Scheme have now closed.

However, if you have previously taken out a Bounce Back Loan, before your first repayment is due, your lender will contact you about the option to:

  • repay back some or all of your loan
  • stick with your current payment arrangement
  • provide additional support, including Pay As You Grow options or help to deal with financial difficulties.

Pay As You Grow options include:

  • extending your loan term to 10 years
  • moving to interest-only repayments for six months (you can do this up to 3 times)
  • deferring repayments for six months (you can do this once).

Find out more about Pay As You Grow.

VAT cuts for hospitality sector - VAT for the hospitality and tourism sectors has been discounted to 12.5% until 31 March 2022. The standard 20% rate will be reinstated on 1 April 2022. The VAT cut and discount applies to:

  • food and non-alcoholic beverages sold for on-premises consumption
  • hot takeaway food and hot takeaway non-alcoholic beverages
  • sleeping accommodation in hotels, holiday accommodation, pitch fees for caravans and tents, and associated facilities
  • admission to various attractions, including theatres, circuses, fairs, amusement parks, museums, zoos, cinemas, concerts and exhibitions.

See further government guidance on the temporary VAT cut.

Rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses – Eligible businesses in Scotland will get 100% rates relief between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2022. The property must be occupied to qualify, however, properties which have closed temporarily due to COVID-19 guidance will be classed as occupied. For the 2020-2021 tax year, the discount will be applied to your bill by your local council, from April 2021 businesses will need to fill in a form with their local council.

Throughout the pandemic the Scottish government has announced a number of grants aimed at supporting specific sectors. See details of all open grants and how to apply.

2. What financial help and support is available for the self-employed?

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) provided five possible grants to help support self-employed individuals struggling due to coronavirus.

Applications for all the grants are now closed.

If you claimed a SEISS grant payment, you must report it on your tax return. 
See guidance for reporting SEISS grants.

3. What support is available for commercial renters?

Support measures mean that commercial tenants who are struggling to pay their rent due to COVID-19 will be protected from eviction.

The measures, which prevent tenants who have had to remain closed during the pandemic from being evicted due to missing a payment, currently last until at least 25 March 2022.

However, the government has emphasised that businesses who are able to pay rent, must do so. Tenants should start paying their rent as soon as they are legally able to open.

Under the legislation, tenants and landlords are expected to work together to come to an agreement regarding any money owed – this could involve waiving some of the total amount or agreeing a longer-term repayment plan.

4. Due to COVID-19 many of my customers are late paying their invoices and it’s causing me cash flow issues. What can I do?

If you’re a small business, with under 50 staff, the office of the Small Business Commissioner can offer help and advice on late payments.

Take a look at the Small Business Commissioner website  for more information or give them a call on 0121 695 7770.

Larger businesses will need to pursue any debt recovery through the courts.
If late payments are impacting your cash flow, we offer a number of solutions which could help, including Invoice Finance.

Speak to one of our specialists on 0800 169 4356 or get in touch with your Relationship Manager or Relationship Management Team to see how we can help support you.

5. What help and support is there for businesses trading internationally?

If your business exports or delivers goods and services abroad and has been impacted by COVID-19, or is struggling with supply chain issues, the Department for International Trade is able to support you in a number of ways, including:

  • providing assistance with customs authorities to ensure smooth clearance of goods
  • offering advice on intellectual property and business continuity
  • finding alternative suppliers.  

See how we can help support your business with international trade at this time.

In addition, our Invoice Finance solutions can be offered on both domestic and export debt with a wide range of currencies available. For more information please call one of our specialists on 0800 169 4356
Find out more about Invoice Finance solutions


Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

1. Can I still make a claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) closed on 30 September 2021 and the deadline for final claims was 14 October 2021.

However, HMRC may accept late claims or amendments in certain circumstances.
See government guidance on making late CJRS claims.

2. Can I pay back grants claimed under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

You can pay back some or all of your grant if you have overclaimed, you no longer need the grant, or you’d like to make a voluntary repayment.
See guidance on repaying CJRS grants.


Sick pay and time off

1. When should my employees self-isolate?

Self-isolation guidance varies between the UK nations.

See self-isolation guidance for Scotland. 
See self-isolation guidance for England. 
See self-isolation guidance for Wales. 
See self-isolation guidance for Northern Ireland.

2. Can employees work if they are self-isolating?

If employees are able to work from home and aren’t feeling ill themselves, they should be able to work while self-isolating.

If they aren’t feeling able to work, they can call in sick following your usual procedures.

3. Are employees entitled to sick pay while self-isolating?

Employees who follow advice to stay at home will be paid Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they are unable to work, even if they are not ill themselves.  For example, if they aren’t double vaccinated and have to self-isolate due to a family member testing positive.

There is no need to pay SSP if employees are self-isolating due to travelling to another country for recreational travel.

Under the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme, employers with fewer than 250 employees can claim back the current rate of SSP for current or former employees for periods of sickness from 13 March 2020.

The rebate covers up to two weeks’ worth of payments to employees who have coronavirus or cannot work as they are self-isolating.

There’s no need for a fit note to make the claim.
See more about how to claim under the Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme.


At work and working from home

1. What steps can I take to help keep my employees safe?

The Scottish government has issued guidance to help businesses reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading. 
See the safer businesses and workplaces guidance.

The English, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have issued their own guidance.

See guidance for England. 
See guidance for Wales. 
See guidance for Northern Ireland.

See the Health and Safety Executive’s guide to social distancing at work
Get advice from the HSE on conducting a risk assessment for your business.

2. If employees are working from home, do I have to provide them with appropriate equipment and pay for their utilities?

If staff have agreed to work from home voluntarily, or chosen to work from home, there is no need to make a contribution towards their utility bills.

If they are working from home involuntarily, employees could claim up to £6 a week tax relief to cover any additional costs they are incurring. They can’t claim for things that are for both private and business use, for example broadband, but can claim for things related to work, for example business telephone calls or extra gas and electricity costs.

This amount can be covered by employers as a tax-free allowance, or claimed as tax relief via HMRC.

Coronavirus support

Find information and support for your business from accessing your account and managing cash flow to government-backed lending schemes.

Business mentoring

Find out how mentoring could help you lead your business through COVID-19 with confidence.

Government-backed lending schemes

Find out about the Recovery Loan Scheme and BBL Pay As You Grow options.