On 24th January, Cllr Abdul Jabbar MBE, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Corporate Services, circulated the following information to councillors and colleagues updating them on the latest support available to businesses and residents in Oldham as we continue to work to tackle the challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic:
The coronavirus outbreak that started in January has to date infected more than 392,000 people globally, resulting in more than 17,100 deaths. More than 180 countries have confirmed cases so far. In European countries the number of cases and deaths is increasing at around 33% per day.
The government has announced a range of measures to contain the virus in the UK, from shutting restaurants and pubs to closing down schools to the majority of students and encouraging people to work from home where possible. A large amount of support has also been brought forward to support businesses and individuals during this hugely challenging period.
This briefing sets out some of the support that is available, so that councillors can advise residents when asked. Further details are emerging every day, so information is available on the links provided.
Support for Businesses
The Chancellor has announced a 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England, as well as nursery businesses. This will be coordinated by local authorities, with eligible businesses having the holiday applied automatically to their next council tax bill in April 2020. Retail hospitality and leisure businesses can also access cash grants of £10,000 (for firms with a rateable value of under £15,000) or £25,000 (for firms with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000). Other small businesses that pay little or no business rates are also eligible for a £10,000 grant. This will also be coordinated by local authorities, who will write to eligible businesses shortly.
Businesses across sectors are being supported to retain employees who would otherwise be laid off because of the crisis. These employees must be designated as “furloughed workers”, meaning that they will not be at work for a period. Businesses will be reimbursed for 80% of furloughed employees’ salaries up to £2,500 per month. HMRC are coordinating this.
VAT and Income Tax payments are being deferred for businesses and self-employed people. For businesses, all VAT payments will be deferred until July 2020. For self-employed people, payments due in July 2020 will be deferred until January 2021. This process will be automated through HMRC. HMRC are also looking to use the Time to Pay service to support firms in financial difficulty.
Employers who have staff taking time off sick due to coronavirus will be able to claim a refund of statutory sick pay for up to two weeks per eligible employee. This offer is available to employers with less than 250 employees. The rebate system is in the process of being developed.
Difficulties with cashflow are to be tackled through a business interruption loan scheme of up to £5m in value for up to 6 years. The government is guaranteeing 80% of each loan to give greater confidence to lenders. The loans are available to businesses with a turnover below £45m per year, and can be accessed through commercial lenders. Larger firms will be supported through a corporate financing facility that means the Bank of England will buy short term debt.
Further information on the support available to businesses is available here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses
Support for Residents
The council are signposting the latest information as well as where help can be sought through the dedicated web page https://www.oldham.gov.uk/coronavirus.
Special payment plans can be agreed with residents who are experiencing short term difficulty paying council tax (e.g. payment over nine months, meaning no payment until July). Bailiff visits for those whose council tax is overdue have also been suspended. Schemes like the Exceptional Financial Hardship scheme and council tax reductions for low income households are also being signposted.
The government has also reached agreement with energy providers to remove the risk of residents having energy cut off because of debts during periods of self-isolation. Those on pre-payment meters can speak to their supplier about options to keep them supplied, while for others debt repayment options and bill reassessment is also available. More information is available here https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-agrees-measures-with-energy-industry-to-support-vulnerable-people-through-covid-19
Action Together are coordinating volunteering efforts across the borough. This is particularly important because many third sector organisations rely on volunteering from residents who are at high risk from coronavirus and therefore are self-isolating. Details of how to volunteer in Oldham are available at https://www.actiontogether.org.uk/
Emergency legislation is being passed to protect residents from eviction. Landlords will not be able to commence eviction proceedings in either private or socially rented accommodation for at least 3 months. Landlords and homeowners will also be protected by the availability of a 3 month mortgage payment holiday, which has also been extended to buy-to-let mortgages (not covered when the mortgage holiday was initially announced). More information is available here https://www.gov.uk/government/news/complete-ban-on-evictions-and-additional-protection-for-renters and here https://www.oldham.gov.uk/info/100007/housing/2444/coronavirus_housing
The council is working hard with partners and government to implement existing announcements and ensure additional support is brought in as the virus develops over the coming weeks.
With capacity in the health service an ongoing and growing challenge, actions to slow the spread of the virus are absolutely vital. To that end the government are advising all residents to maintain social distance of at least two metres, and that older or higher risk residents should maintain strict isolation. Further details are available here 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