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Your coronavirus questions answered


Bira is working hard to support you through the outbreak of Covid-19, supplying you with the most up-to-date information available.

With this in mind, we asked you to send in your questions – ones you felt had not ordinarily been answered.

Here are some of the most recently asked questions and the answers from our team of experts.

Q:  I own an art gallery that has a fully functioning e-commerce store. Am I able to offer click and collect service where customers would not enter the premises but would collect items at the door of the gallery at a pre-arranged time?

A: We would not recommend this even if social distancing is maintained. You may come under some pressure because your shop and product would not be classed as essential, so the reason for the consumer to visit may not be deemed as reasonable or essential. It will mean your shop is technically open but not an essential business so against the regulations. Delivery of item would be a much better option to facilitate the trade and avoid possible issues with authorities.

Q: I understand that we can reclaim SSP for 2 weeks for employees who had to self-isolate for medical reasons between 1 March and the start of furlough. How do we make this claim please?

A: 1. I have copied a link below which should point the member in the right direction – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-back-statutory-sick-pay-paid-to-employees-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19 (This information is provided by Bira Legal, you have unlimited access to their phone and email lines and they can advise on any questions relating to employment law, HR, health & safety, tax & VAT and commercial law. Should you have any further questions call 0345 450 0937 or email bira@elliswhittam.com

 

Q: Shops have been given a business rates holiday this year but many, like us, have warehouses that only operate as ancillary to the shops. They had to close when the shops did – no deliveries to customers etc could take place – but rates have not been cancelled. Are there any other grants available for this to small businesses please?

A: Regarding the rates question, the cancellation of rates only applied to certain sectors, warehouses not included. Also no grants available for the warehouses either. It would be worth appealing to the local authority with the argument that it is an enforced closure due to shop closing. Many retailers have turned to ecommerce to maintain some sales and we recommend that all retailers look at this option to see if it is viable.

 

Q: We operate  concessions  and  have  only one premises , classed  as office/workshop/Warehouse. We have an all inclusive package with the Land Lord and were therefore  not  registered  for business  rates  at the Statutory date for grants and as such we cannot claim under the Grant Scheme.  Like many our business has ceased to  function  and we are surviving on  reserves. Is there any chance the Government  will in the  future  force councils  not  to  deny this assistance  and change the criteria  for assistance.

A: We have made representation to government about this anomaly and not been able to effect a change in policy as yet. We need more case studies. In my view, if your rent is all inclusive, it might be worthwhile asking the landlord to reduce rent and remove the rates element as a result of what has happened, especially if the landlord has received a rates reduction.

 

Q: With around two thirds of self employed people ( with annual operating profits exceeding 50K or Ltd companies taking income from dividends) unable to claim anything, will the government possibly look again at this again as although I appreciate all the help that has been offered to businesses it is difficult to live without personal income, especially when we don’t know how long this will go on for?

A: The updated guidance from HMRC makes it clear that an employee can take holiday during a period of furlough. During any days of holiday at this time, the employee should be paid full pay and so the employee will need to top up the 20% on the 80% that they are claiming back as furlough pay. This should hopefully not prove too costly. This will only apply for any holidays which are booked during this time (and bank holidays which are already in the diary and which are a day when the employee would normally be in work). Employees may prefer to cancel their holidays which they had booked to take at another time and 4 weeks of these can be rolled over into the next 2 holiday years if the employee was unable to take their holiday due to the coronavirus outbreak and in order to spread out any periods of leave once we are out of the lockdown.  (This information was provided by Bira Legal, you have unlimited access to their phone and email lines and they can advise on any questions relating to employment law, HR, health & safety, tax & VAT and commercial law. Should you have any further questions call 0345 450 0937 or email bira@elliswhittam.com)

 

Q: I am a small business operating a catering business’ at the UK Supreme Court from a company that is registered in Hampshire. In response to Covid-19 and the downturn in trade government announced that a Small Business Grant Fund and a Hospitality Grant fund would be set up. However, these only appear to apply if you pay business rates. We do not pay rates as we operate as a concession within the Supreme Court and our rent encompasses rent, rates and service charge albeit the proportions of each element is not specifically identified. We are suffering from the same pressures as rate payers so it seems unreasonable to specify that the qualification criteria is that you pay business rates. I know we will not be the only business in this position as concession contracts are common within the catering industry.  Can you offer any advice as to who I can approach to find a way to access the grant or if any of your members have a similar issue?

A: Yes, we have seen other members in the same situation, unfortunately. It would be worth appealing to the local authority with the argument that it is an enforced closure due. Many retailers have turned to ecommerce to maintain some sales and we recommend that all retailers look at this option to see if it is viable.

 

Q: I am a forward-order fashion retailer, I am looking for assistance to negotiate deals with suppliers on outstanding invoices. I have irrelevant stock for race days, weddings, cruises etc… and can’t see there being a market for this sector of my business. I need to negotiate discounts outstanding balances and also potentially cancel completely some stock that is on forward order for AW2020. This is the first time in 20+ years that I have asked Bira to assist so am hoping you may be able to give me some advice.

A: As regards the forward-order, it will come down to the contract and this may require some specific legal advice (maybe Bira Legal can help, I’ve left their details at the end of this message). At the end of the day you will not be alone and other much larger retailers have been cancelling orders. Suppliers also have to realise that they will have to work with retailers. This leads on the negotiating payments. It all depends on your circumstances – do you have the money to pay for the orders? If not, your negotiating stance is for the supplier to agree a discount or deferred payments, or you will go into liquidation and the suppliers may well realise that they are better to receive something (negotiated payments) rather than nothing (often the case following liquidation). A similar route would be to go for a CVA, and again this would need specialist advice. Either way you should seek some specialist support from an accountant.

You have unlimited access to the Bira Legal phone and email lines and they can advise on any questions relating to employment law, HR, health & safety, tax & VAT and commercial law. To use the free service, call 0345 450 0937 or email bira@elliswhittam.com

 

Q: I have a guest house now shut down because of the virus, who do I make a grant claim too? Is it the council? Or is it to my tax office for the self employed?

A: This depends on the grant you are referring to. Local authority grant – only qualifies if you are paying business rates, which as a 5 room guest house you may not be. If this is the case, you would need to check with the local authority. If it is the self-employed income grant, we suggest you check the Gov website for the rules as there is qualifying criteria, depending on how you paid yourself through the business and how much profit you made – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme

 

Q: We are a fashion boutique there has been a lot in the papers about not having changing rooms open, we plan on having one changing room open only for safety, but is it safe to let customers try items on can the virus be carried on clothes, seem to read a lot about washing clothes that you buy, but what should you do with clothes that have been tried on is it safe for staff to handle them.

A: Bira has been invited to contribute to a government working party looking at safer working practices for when the shops are allowed to re-open. The British Retail Consortium (who represent the large chains such as M&S) will also be part of this group. Our aim is to ensure that retailers of all sizes and in all sectors are able to trade safely – for employers and customers. Clothing is a particularly complex area because it is a very personal purchase, requiring ‘touch and feel’ and often trying on the clothes before confirming the purchase. Closing changing rooms, or limiting use may be required. A wider issue may be how retailers have to deal with returns when the product has been taken from the safe retail environment.
Bira will ensure that the guidance is intended to work for them and remove ambiguities. We will obviously keep our members informed as we receive the clarification. In the meantime, we would welcome your thoughts on what you need/expect and any solutions you may have.

 

Q: I get paid in dividends, as I am a company director, not paying any PAYE. Has anything been disclosed?

A: This issue has been raised and we have put forward an alternative scheme to the Minister for Business and awaiting feedback for the relevant department.

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