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Covid 19 Q&A

 

Here are some key questions answered by the policy team, we will be regularly updating this document as Government advice changes.

How is public transport impacted?

The Government on the 16th of March advised people to work from home when possible and to avoid non-essential use of public transport, especially in rush hour as part of measures around social distancing to limit the spread of coronavirus (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults ).

This advice has been updated on the 23rd of March which now includes that you can only travel to and from work where this absolutely cannot be done from home and that people should stay 2 metres away from each other (https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus)

Public transport such as trains, metro and buses are still running in the North East and nationally for critical workers. However, some services are running at a less frequent service so check before you travel.

If you need to cancel your rail travel LNER, Cross Country, Northern and TransPennine Express have relaxed their ticket refund restrictions. Train companies have agreed to offer refunds on Advance tickets bought before, and valid for travel from 7am on Monday 23rd March and have waived the usual refund fee. Those holding a season ticket that they no longer wish to use will also be eligible for a partial refund, determined by the amount of time remaining on the ticket. Ticket holders should contact their retailer for further details. Information from each company is below.

https://www.lner.co.uk/travel-information/coronavirus-travel-information/

https://www.crosscountrytrains.co.uk/coronavirus

https://help.northernrailway.co.uk/hc/en-gb/articles/360006092198 https://www.tpexpress.co.uk/travel-updates/corona-virus-travel-info

https://www.thetrainline.com/trains/coronavirus-travel-information

For people who are using public transport the Government advice is to wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after travelling and to not travel if you have a cough or a high temperature (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-for-staff-in-the-transport-sector/covid-19-guidance-for-staff-in-the-transport-sector ). Metro and bus operators have also announced more regular cleaning schedules. Avoiding rush hour and staying 2 metres away from people are also being advised.

As many people are working from home and not using transport services there have been discussions between transport operators and the Government around funding and support to make sure that these services continue to operate for those critical workers that need them. The Department for Transport has said ‘“We recognise how difficult the current situation is for the transport sector and, across government, we are engaging with the sector’s leadership to support workers, businesses and passengers.”

On the 23rd of March the Department for Transport implemented Emergency Measures Agreements to franchised rail operators as passenger numbers have fallen by over 70%, this will keep the system open for key workers with a reduced timetable from the 23rd of March. (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/rail-emergency-measures-during-the-covid-19-pandemic )

What are airlines and airports doing?

On the 17th of March the Foreign Secretary advised against all non-essential travel overseas, initially for 30 days, until the 16th April. The FCO advice means that most insurance companies should cover the cost of your cancellations but check with your airline, hotel or tour operator first about refunds.

On the 23rd of March the Foreign Secretary has called for all British people travelling abroad to come home immediately. The Department for Transport has said ‘We’re in close contact with airlines, who are working tirelessly to ensure British citizens travelling overseas can safely return to the UK. We are also working closely with other government departments, including the FCO to ensure airlines are able to operate to bring people back home.’

The Home Secretary has announced an extension on visas for those in the UK who cannot return home due to the pandemic https://www.gov.uk/government/news/visas-extended-for-those-currently-unable-to-return-home-due-to-covid-19?utm_source=e042435d-2e21-4022-a0c4-448c75757472&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate

Airlines have been grounding flights due to the lack of demand for air travel and Government restrictions around the world.

A spokesperson from Newcastle Airport has said "An increasing number of airlines are now withdrawing flights and curtailing their flying schedules as numerous countries move into lockdown. Newcastle is a strong regional airport, but in order to navigate the significant reduction in passengers as a result of the COVID-19 situation, we must take urgent steps to protect the long-term interests of the business and the North East region.’’ (https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/newcastle-airport-issues-stark-warning-17940951 )

Teesside International Airport Terminal will be temporarily closed to the public from the 24th of March following strengthened Government advice on avoiding all non-essential travel to slow the spread of coronavirus. The Mayor of Tees Valley Ben Houchen has said ‘I’ve written to all of the businesses that work with the airport, outlining the extensive support package for businesses to keep them going, and keep their workers paid - including the government’s grant to cover 80 percent of a retained workers’ wage. The message from the government and NHS is crystal clear, everyone now needs to stay at home, protect our amazing health workers, and save as many lives as possible. People who don’t follow this advice are putting their life, and the life of others in grave danger.” (https://www.itv.com/news/tyne-tees/2020-03-23/all-flights-to-teesside-airport-suspended-due-to-coronavirus-outbreak/)

The Department for Transport has previously asked for slot allocation at airports to be changes to ensure that airlines don’t need to fly empty aircraft to retain their slot. However, with larger travel restrictions recently imposed by the Foreign Office increased Government support for airports and airlines will be an important issue to ensure that the aviation sector can survive this downturn.

Measures such as suspending business rates on airports, delaying VAT and corporation tax and being prepared to organise emergency financing from Government would all help to protect the region’s airports.

Will I still be able to transport goods?

International and domestic freight transport (including by air, ship, road and rail, including roll-on/roll-off transport) is classified by UK government as an essential travel so is not subject to travel bans.

The Government have said that social distancing for the travel of accompanied goods vehicles travelling between the UK and mainland Europe and Ireland is still important especially in sleeping accommodation and during crossings through the Channel tunnel.

Domestic freight operators running transport terminals, warehouses and distribution centres have been asked by Government to ensure that drivers and crew have access to toilets, washing facilities and sufficient waiting space.

International road freight transport is exempt from many but not all of those of restrictions due to it being an essential activity, road transport operators should use the Freight Transport Association’s or Road Haulage Association’s international road transport services to check specific information based on cross-European trade information provided to the International Road Transport Union.

The Government recommends maritime freight operators check specific information and guidance on international trade and policies (including information relating to crew, berthing and isolation) at any port, and in any country, they are operating in.

Full Government information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-freight-transport/covid-19-advice-for-the-freight-transport-industry

On the 23rd of March the EU Commission published guidance on the flow of goods across the EU via green lanes to ensure that EU wide supply chains can continue to operate (https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_510) .

The EU guidance recommends that procedures at green lane border crossings should be minimised and streamlined to what is strictly necessary. Checks and screening should be carried out without drivers having to leave their vehicles, and drivers themselves should undergo only minimal checks. Drivers of freight vehicles should not be asked to produce any document other than their identification and driving license and if necessary, a letter from the employer. Neighbouring EU states have also been offered the opportunity to join the scheme https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_20_510

What other support is available from the Department for Transport?

The Department for Transport have said that they are granting an MOT temporary exemption so that if your MOT is due from 30th March 2020 you will automatically receive a six-month extension. However, you must still keep your car in a roadworthy condition and garages will remain open if you need repairs.

What is being done to support the leisure and hospitality industry?

In the Budget the Chancellor announced that there would be business rate relief for retail, leisure and hospitality sectors with a 100% discount for the 2020/21 tax year for those with a rateable value under £51,000.

Since the Government guidance around social distancing now includes avoiding smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars and clubs the Chancellor has updated the 100% business rate relief to all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses. Local Authorities should will be giving eligible businesses their new bill.

A £25,000 grant to retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of under £51,000 was also announced by the Chancellor on the 17th of March.

In some cases the Local Authorities have said that business rates payments will be automatic but some cases you will have to get in touch to register or to provide details to help fast track the process. Our document here https://www.neechamber.co.uk/uploads/files/YCwxgrNRUwC4Q4I7.pdf on page 14 lists all the websites with guidance from the local authorities. Check whether you need to register for your area if you're eligible for any of the rates relief.

On the 25th of March the Chancellor has said that estate agents, letting agencies and bingo halls will also pay no business rates.

How will the North East’s high streets be protected?

On the 23rd of March the Government have updates its guidance to also shut down all non-essential retail, hairdressers, markets, hotels, museums and libraries. Full information is available here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/874732/230320_-_Revised_guidance_note_-_finalVF.pdf . For those essential shops that are open the Government have advised to stand 2 metres away from people and to not gather in groups. Food delivery and takeaway can remain as options.

The Government are also relaxing planning rules to make it easier for pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways following social distancing advice. This will apply to hot food, to serve alcohol you will need a licence.More details will be announced soon (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-to-grant-permission-for-pubs-and-restaurants-to-operate-as-takeaways-as-part-of-coronavirus-response )

The Chancellor has announced financial measures to support workers and businesses impacted by the crisis including the including the Coronavirus Job retention scheme for HMRC to cover 80% of retained workers' wages for up to £2.5k/month, this will be backdated to 01/03 for 3 months initially but may be extended. There is also the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme of up to £5 million for businesses. More information is available on business support here: https://www.neechamber.co.uk/uploads/files/G3ajfGf3qMJRvOcL.pdf

What support is there for arts and cultural venues?

Arts Council England have announced new funding for organisations, £90 million will be available to National Portfolio organisations and £50 million will be available to those who are not regularly receiving funding from the arts council.

Full information on the funding is available here: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/covid19

How are mortgage and rent payments being treated?

The Chancellor announced on the 17th March that mortgage lenders have agreed they will introduce payment holidays of up to 3 months. UK Finance has advised that “Customers who are concerned about their current financial situation should get in touch with their lender at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss if this is a suitable option for them.”

The Government has said that ‘Commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction’ this means that no business will be forced out of their premises if they miss a payment in the next 3 months. More information here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/extra-protection-for-businesses-with-ban-on-evictions-for-commercial-tenants-who-miss-rent-payments

The Chancellor has also said that local housing associations will cover at least 30% of market rents.

What happens if I am due to move home?

The Government have issues new guidance for people due to move home or for people selling their home here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

This guidance focusses on being flexible and to delay moving where possible and to not let buyers visit your home if it is on the market.

Official guidance for renters looking to move is to where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19), especially if the house is already occupied.

How does the furlough scheme impact people on maternity and paternity leave?

Guidance from the Government is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme#contents . Statutory maternity pay is the same, if your company offers above the statutory level this can be claimed by them through the job retention scheme. If you're on shared parental leave, paternity leave or for adoption and you're paid above the statutory level then your company can claim the additional amount through the scheme as well.


What is Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and who is entitled to it?

Employers with fewer than 250 employees (as of 28th February 2020) will be eligible to reclaim SSP paid for sickness absence due to Coronavirus. Employers will be able to recover up to two weeks’ SSP per employee absent from work because of Coronavirus.

If an employee has been instructed by a doctor, NHS 111 or Government advice to self-isolate, they are entitled to receive SSP. As of 16th March, the Government advised that all individuals with a new dry cough or high temperature, and anyone who lives with them regardless of whether they have symptoms, must self- isolate.

SSP will be payable from day one of an employees’ absence. The legislation to enforce SSP being introduced from day one is expected imminently and will apply retrospectively from 13 March.

Currently, employees who are at an increased risk of severe illness from Coronavirus and who decide to self-isolate without symptoms are not eligible for SSP. However, the Government have encouraged employers to direct employees to work from home wherever possible.In addition, it is expected that by the weekend 21st-22nd March 2020, those with the most serious health conditions will be instructed to not go into work by the Government.

The Government has confirmed that a GP fit note will not be required for businesses to be able to reclaim SSP. However, the Government does not yet have a system in place to reimburse businesses and have stated that they will “work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism” as soon as possible.

Government information can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/statutory-sick-pay

What is happening to schools & colleges and how does it impact employers/employees?

The Government announced yesterday that all state schools will close on the 21st March for the foreseeable future. The Government is also asking nurseries, private schools, sixth forms and independent training providers to do the same. The Government has urged parents not to leave children in the care of grandparents as they are subject to more stringent social distancing advice.

The children of key workers and vulnerable children, that is children with social workers or an Education, Health and Care Plan, will still be able to attend school. Occupations deemed critical to by the Government include healthcare workers, social workers, teaching staff, police and support staff, transport workers and many others. The full list can be found here.

The Government has yet to release fresh guidance in terms of employee leave and school closures. At the time of writing, employees have a statutory right to a reasonable amount of leave to deal with an emergency regarding a dependent (spouse, child or parent). “Reasonable” time is not defined, but the policy is intended to allow employees time to deal with immediate problems and find alternative care providers. Whether this leave is paid or unpaid is, currently, for employers to decide.

Employees who have worked for a company for over a year are also entitled to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave per child under 18, in order to look after their welfare. The government classifies a week as the length of time an employee normally works over 7 days. Therefore, part time workers might be entitled to less time off.

In addition, all employees have the right to request flexible working if they have been with the same employer for 26 weeks. Flexible working includes working from home, flexitime and job sharing. Although this can be rejected due to business costs, the Government is encouraging employers to be as flexible as possible with their employees and encourage working from home if appropriate.

Existing employment law still applies until the Government pushes new emergency laws through parliament. However, in light of the government’s decision to close nurseries, schools and colleges yesterday, it seems likely that updated guidance will be released shortly.

Government information can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/time-off-for-dependants

https://www.gov.uk/parental-leave

https://www.gov.uk/flexible-working

What is happening to exams and will students still get their qualifications?

In England and Wales, all GCSE, A-Levels, Sats and other externally assessed exams in May and June have been cancelled. The Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, has clarified that as well as exams not going ahead, the Government will not be publishing performance tables for this academic year.

According to the Government, Ofqual, the exam regulator, will develop and outline the process that will provide a calculated grade to each student in “as fair a manner as possible”. The exam boards will liaise with teachers who know students well and ask them to submit a grade for each student. Teachers will utilise performance on mock exams and non-exam assessment to inform their suggestions. Exam boards will then combine teacher suggestions with other data, for example prior attainment, and submit a final judgement about the grade they believe a student would have received had they sat the exam.

More information is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-cancellation-of-gcses-as-and-a-levels-in-2020/coronavirus-covid-19-cancellation-of-gcses-as-and-a-levels-in-2020. More guidance and a timetable on how A-Level and GCSE grades will be calculated will be published w/c 30th March.

The Government has released some specific guidancefor the Further Education sector here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-apprenticeship-programme-response . One complexity is the range of vocational courses and technical qualifications offered and the large variety of assessment methods. For example, many students might have already finished modules, completed practical assessments or handed in assessed work which could be used as evidence when exam boards are awarding grades to students. However, the Government states that they are “working urgently” with the further education sector to explore options for grade allocation in vocational courses and will release more information in due course.

Announcements we are waiting for

What emergency funding will be made available to education providers?

How are visas impacted?

The Home Secretary has announced on the 24th of March that there will be an extension to visas for those unable to leave the UK due to the pandemic. The extension will apply to those whose leave expired after the 24th of January and who have been unable to leave. The extension will last until the 31st of May but might be reviewed in case further extensions are needed. A Covid immigration team have been set up to answer questions please contact CIH@homeoffice.gov.uk, more information here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/visas-extended-for-those-currently-unable-to-return-home-due-to-covid-19?utm_source=e042435d-2e21-4022-a0c4-448c75757472&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=govuk-notifications&utm_content=immediate

How is this effecting international trade?

The movement of goods across Europe is still considered essential movement, so has not been stopped altogether. Goods will continue to enter Britain from Europe and vice versa. European nations have however, begun to implement greater checks at their borders, so the movement of goods is not as frictionless as before. The impacts of these checks vary across Europe, from many border crossings taking only a few minutes extra, to numerous examples of huge tailbacks, drastically delaying deliveries. Examples of this include 50km + queues on the border between Germany and Poland and 20km + tailbacks at one border crossing between Germany and France.

Going forward, the European Commission has agreed that nations will work together to try and keep traffic moving efficiently. This will include measures such as ‘green corridors’ – priority lanes for freight transport – and flexibility of driving and rest times for HGV drivers.

Another issue impacting exporters is the hit to businesses cashflow. The reduced economic activity reducing the level of cash coming into businesses’ pockets will have a severe impact when it comes to paying bills, taxes, etc at the end of the month. There is some government support for some of these issues such as the proposed government Time to Pay arrangement from HMRC, which will allow companies more time to complete a payment. If you cannot pay HMRC because of Coronavirus impacting your business, you should contact their Coronavirus helpline on 0800 015 9559 for a bespoke Time to Pay arrangement.

Following the Foreign Office decision to advise against all non-essential travel overseas, nearly all international business trips or exhibitions will no longer take place. This will result in lost funds that have already been spent, as well as lost business opportunity through losing the opportunity to sell products or make new business connections. It will be worth checking your own insurance policy to see how much you may be able to claim back as this has been essentially forced upon business.

What support is available for exporters?

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on 17/03/2020 a huge range of measures for British businesses to try address the economic impact of COVID-19, to the tune of £350bn. For information on these measures, the Chamber has put together this (below) document, outlining whatever details are relevant. This document will update as the situation develops.

https://www.neechamber.co.uk/uploads/files/XUJMsjCFrOtnV0I2.pdf

One of the most significant measures is the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). This scheme should be available by the week commencing 23 March 2020 and hopes to ensure the availability of credit for British businesses impacted by COVID-19. It will do so by providing the lender with a government-backed guarantee of up to £5m. The government will also pay the first 6 months of interest payments on the loans. To see more information and the criteria for CBILS, please use the below link.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) details and eligibility criteria - https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils/

The Department for International Trade has a web page laying out the support that it is currently offering for businesses impacted by COVID-19. Any queries for the department can be made to the dedicated Department for International Trade COVID-19 Departmental Operations Centre at COVID19@trade.gov.uk

These measures include supply chain support and advice for seeking alternative suppliers, if the virus has resulted in breakages in already established supply chains. They also cover UK Export Finance (UKEF) to cover exporters disrupted by COVID-19.

UKEF includes guarantees, loans and insurance to protect businesses in the face of late payments or transit restrictions, as well as insurance to recover the costs of fulfilling an order that has been terminated due to the virus.

DIT webpage - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-uk-businesses/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-uk-businesses?utm-source=facebook&utm-medium=organicsocial&utm-content=7bb78004-54b6-417b-8777-dd6bb4a12cb6

How is Brexit impacted?

The scheduled trade negotiations between the European Union and the UK, that were set to take place in London this week, are not going ahead as planned. That means there is unlikely to be any updates on the future relationship between the UK and the EU to be announced in the immediate future.

The government has been clear, however, that despite the fight against COVID-19 taking up huge attention and resources from government, that there is not currently any intention to extend the transition phase beyond 31 December 2020, due to the fact that this end date has already been legislated for.

The current message from government is that business should still be preparing for the end of the transition phase, as well as, addressing the impacts of COVID-19 on their business. As of 18/03/2020, HMRC is continuing to advertise an extended grant scheme for businesses who will need to complete customs declarations and train or recruit staff before the end of transition, suggesting their continued commitment to addressing the future relationship with the EU within the year.

This may well change in the future, as the COVID-19 situation develops and demands even more government attention for a sustained period. The final date in which an extension of the transition period can be agreed is June 30th 2020.

Gaps in support that we’re aware of:

  • Home-based small businesses, which aren’t eligible for small business rates relief
  • Those in managed offices, who don’t pay rates directly and so aren’t eligible for relief
  • Directors of small limited companies who take dividends rather than a salary – not eligible for furlough scheme
  • Those who’ve become self-employed since April 2019, or who make a minority of their income from self-employment
  • Those wanting to reduce hours of staff, but not furlough them – essentially businesses looking for help to keep running through the outbreak, rather than temporarily close the doors

We are passing this feedback on to the British Chambers of Commerce who are having regular meetings with Government, if you have any feedback please email policy@neechamber.co.uk