Frequently Asked Questions

Below you’ll find answers to some frequently asked questions (FAQs) relating to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on businesses. If you don’t find an answer to your question here or you have further questions, then do contact us and we’ll be happy to help. Simply complete our online enquiry form or call 01344 388005 and one of our team will be in touch with you.

What is the discretionary grant fund and how do I apply?

A discretionary fund has been set up to accommodate certain small businesses in England previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme. This additional fund is aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs. Local authorities are being asked to prioritise businesses in shared spaces, regular market traders, small charity properties that would meet the criteria for Small Business Rates Relief, and bed and breakfasts that pay council tax rather than business rates. Businesses must be small, under 50 employees, and able to demonstrate a significant drop in income due to Coronavirus restriction measures. The maximum grant will be £25,000. There will also be grants of £10,000. Local authorities will have discretion to make payments of any amount under £10,000.

Additional local authority information:

  • Bracknell Forest Council – Small businesses can apply online for this grant from Monday 1 June. A document setting out the eligibility criteria for this discretionary grant can be found here.
  • Reading Borough Council – The Council is now working up a process by which small businesses will be able to apply for support from the new pot of discretionary funding. Details of the application process will be widely publicised when this work is finalised and published on the Reading Borough Council website here.
  • Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead – Any enquiries made to the Business Rates team  (business.rates@rbwm.gov.uk) at RBWM regarding the funding are being held on file while the Council finalises plans. As and when the Council are in a position to update businesses the scheme will be published and applications will be invited from potentially qualifying businesses.
  • Slough Borough Council – Slough Borough Council are currently using the criteria provided by government to set up a user-friendly application system. Applications for the discretionary grant are expected to open shortly. Further details can be found here
  • West Berkshire Council – Applications are now open for the discretionary grant. The eligibility criteria and claim form are available on the West Berkshire Council website here.
  • Wokingham Borough Council – More information is currently being prepared. Further guidance will follow shortly on how to apply for this discretionary business grant. Details on the grant can be found here.

What support is available to people who are self-employed?

The Chancellor has announced a new Self-employment Income Support Scheme to support self-employed people who have been adversely affected by COVID-19. The scheme will provide a grant to self-employed individuals or partnerships, worth 80% of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month. The scheme will be open to those where the majority of their income comes from self-employment and who have profits of less than £50,000. You do not need to get in touch with HMRC as the scheme isn’t yet open for applications. HMRC will contact eligible customers by the beginning of June, inviting them to apply. You can read these useful FAQs on the SEISS scheme.

If you’re getting less work or no work because of coronavirus, you can apply online for Universal Credit. You do not need to go into a Jobcentre to apply and the minimum income floor has been removed for the duration of the outbreak for those who are self-employed.

In addition, Income Tax Self-Assessment payments due on the 31 July 2020 will be deferred until the 31 January 2021. This is an automatic offer with no applications required. 

If the Self-employment Income Support Scheme doesn’t open until June, what should self-employed people do while they wait to be paid? 

In the interim, if you are self-employed you may be eligible for universal credit. You can apply online for Universal Credit, so you do not need to go into a Jobcentre. The government has provided over £6.5bn of additional support through the welfare system for those affected by COVID-19. Further information on how to access this support can be found here.

If you are experiencing financial difficulties meeting your mortgage repayments because of COVID-19, you may be entitled to a mortgage or rental holiday for three months. Customers who are concerned about their current financial situation should contact their lender at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss if this is a suitable option for them.

If you are a tenant experiencing financial difficulties because of COVID-19, the government will ensure you do not face the threat of eviction for at least three months. This applies to private and social renters. At the end of this period, landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.

Does my business have to close during the Coronavirus outbreak?

The Government has published FAQs on business closures and working from home advice to provide further guidance on which businesses should close and which businesses are not required to close. 

With the exception of some non-essential shops and public venues, businesses are not being asked to close. However, employers should take every possible step to facilitate their employees working from home. Where this is not possible, employers who have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able, where possible, to follow Public Health England guidelines on social distancing (including maintaining a 2 metre distance from others). The government has published guidance for specific sectors and settings to assist businesses in keeping their workplaces safe and following social distancing measures.

If my business must temporarily close, what does that mean for my employees?

The government has provided a range of financial support to help you support your employees, including a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis. HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. You can find out more about the this scheme and other financial support available to businesses on our financial support page.

What does furlough mean?

If you cannot maintain your current workforce because your operations have been severely affected by coronavirus, you can furlough employees and apply for a grant via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme that covers 80% of their usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and pension contributions (up to the level of the minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contribution) on that subsidised furlough pay.

This is a temporary scheme in place for three months starting from 1 March 2020, but it may be extended if necessary and employers can use this scheme anytime during this period. It is designed to help employers to retain their employees.

What type of employees can be furloughed?

You can only claim for furloughed employees that were on your PAYE payroll on or before 28 February 2020. Employees hired after 28 February 2020 cannot be furloughed and claimed for in accordance with this scheme. Employees can be on any type of employment contract, including full-time, part-time, agency, flexible or zero-hour contracts.

To be eligible for the grant, when on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of the organisation or any linked or associated organisation. Employers should discuss with their staff and make any changes to the employment contract by agreement. To be eligible for the grant employers must confirm in writing to their employee confirming that they have been furloughed. A record of this communication must be kept for five years.

My business needs financial assistance to help with cashflow, what help is available?

The Chancellor has outlined a range of measures to protect businesses, jobs and incomes as part of the national effort in response to coronavirus. Businesses will be eligible for different schemes to support them through this time. Click here to see the schemes available, who is eligible, how to access them and when they are available.

You can also arrange a free one-to-one consultation with an experienced business adviser from the Berkshire Growth Hub, who can advise you on the financial support available and discuss any other business challenges you are facing. Simply call us on 01344 388005 or complete our online enquiry form.  

What is the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and how do I access it?

This scheme will enable businesses with a turnover of no more than £45m per year to access loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million for up to six years. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The government will also make a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest payment and any lender-levied fees, so businesses will benefit from no upfront costs and lower initial repayments. The Government has extended the scheme so that all viable small businesses affected by COVID-19, and not just those unable to secure regular commercial financing, will now be eligible should they need finance to keep operating during this difficult time.

The scheme is now open for applications. To apply, you should talk to your bank or one of the 40 accredited finance providers to discuss your business plan. The full rules of the scheme and the list of accredited lenders are available on the British Business Bank website.

Is my business eligible for the business rates discount?

The Government is temporarily increasing the Business Rates retail discount in England to 100% for 2020-21 for properties in the retail sector. The Government is also temporarily extending a business rates retail holiday to hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. 

You’re eligible if your property is a:

  • shop
  • restaurant, café, bar or pub
  • cinema or live music venue
  • assembly or leisure property – for example, a sports club, a gym or a spa
  • hospitality property – for example, a hotel, a guest house or self-catering accommodation

You do not need to apply for the business rates discount. Your local authority should apply the discount and send you a revised bill.  

I believe my business is eligible for the business rates retail discount, but what should I do if I haven’t received this discount?

Below you’ll find guidance from local authorities in Berkshire on what you should do if you believe you qualify for the business rates retail discount, but have not already been contacted:

  • Slough Borough Council – If you are a business in the Borough of Slough and you believe that you are entitled to Small Business Rate Relief or Retail Relief and have not been awarded this please contact brates@slough.gov.uk stating why you believe this to be the case, please provide the full address of your business and the business rates account number(s).
  • Wokingham Borough Council – If you are a business in the Borough of Wokingham and you believe that your business should qualify, but you do not receive a revised bill by the time your May 2020 instalment is due, please contact brates@wokingham.gov.uk.
  • Bracknell Forest Council – If you believe that your business should qualify, but you do not get a revised bill by the time your May 2020 instalment is due, please contact services@bracknell-forest.gov.uk
  • Reading Borough Council – Amended bills are being dispatched to all qualifying businesses. As businesses may have limited access to their mail at this time, business owners are encouraged to sign up to e-billing in order to view their bill. You can register and view your account at www.reading.gov.uk/customeraccount
  • Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead – If you believe that your business should qualify, but you do not receive a revised bill by the time that your May instalment is due, please contact business.rates@rbwm.gov.uk
  • West Berkshire Council – If you believe your business may be eligible, you can obtain further advice by sending an email to businessrates@westberks.gov.uk.

What is the small business grant and how do I apply?

The government is providing additional funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBBR). This will provide a one-off Small Business Grant of £10,000 to businesses currently eligible for SBRR or rural rate relief, to help meet their ongoing business costs.

A Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant (RHLG) of £10,000 or £25,000 per property is available for businesses in England in receipt of the Expanded Retail Discount (which covers retail, hospitality and leisure) with a rateable value of less than £51,000.

If your business is eligible for either of the above grants, you will be contacted by your local authority – you do not need to apply. Below you’ll find some additional guidance from local authorities in Berkshire:

  • Bracknell Forest Council – Bracknell Forest Council are contacting eligible businesses. If you think you are eligible for the Small Business Grant or Retail, Leisure & Hospitality Businesses Grant, but have not been contacted, please email revenue.services@bracknell-forest.gov.uk 
  • Reading Borough Council – Reading Borough Council are writing to all eligible businesses about the Small Business Grant or Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Businesses Grant. You can email the council via business.rates@reading.gov.uk with your business rates account reference and stating which grant you are requesting.
  • Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead –  Application forms are being sent out to eligible businesses via email. Where a valid email address is not available, you will be contacted by telephone to obtain an email address and issue a form to you. Payments will be made, by BACS, as soon as completed application forms are
    returned and eligibility is confirmed. 
  • West Berkshire Council – West Berkshire Council have sent an email or letter to those businesses eligible for the grants. On receipt of your email or letter, please respond to the council with your completed form as soon as possible so that they can release your payment. Completed forms are being processed within 48 hours. If you think you may be eligible but have not been contacted, please email businessrates@westberks.gov.uk
  • Wokingham Borough Council – If you think you are eligible for the Small Business Grant or Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Businesses Grant, please complete Wokingham Borough Council’s online business grant form.
  • Slough Borough Council – Letters have been sent to all businesses that Slough Borough Council believe are eligible for this grant. However, if you think your business may be eligible, please complete the form on their website. Please note: Every grant application needs to be verified by Slough Borough Council. The verification process requires the following:
    i. The Business premises address must be used on the grant application form
    ii. Business Rates Reference number must be included (this can be found on a previous business rates bill). Only those registered for business rates on the 11th March 2020 are entitled to the grant
    iii. Bank Details must be verified, so each applicant must upload a PDF or JPEG of one of the following: paying in slip, cheque book page, or recent bank statement.

What help is there for charities and social enterprises?

You can find the latest information on the guidance and support available to charities and Community Interest Companies on our website here.