COVID-19 Hearing Sector update – 23 March 2020

COVID-19 Hearing Sector update - 23 March 2020
  • 23
    Mar

COVID-19 Hearing Sector update – 23 March 2020

At the NCHA we are supporting members seven days a week throughout the COVID-19 crisis. If you need us, get in touch as usual.

In this member alert we provide an update on:

  • Public health advice and clinical updates
  • Financial support for self-employed audiologists
  • Financial support for hearing care providers – including an update on announcements made on Friday evening
 

PUBLIC HEALTH AND CLINICAL UPDATE – UK

To streamline advice at this time we continue to signpost all members to official COVID-19 guidance:

We continue to work with the NHS and Hearing Loss and Deafness Alliance partners to ensure patients can access essential ongoing care during this period – e.g. remote care and support, including hearing aid batteries, repairs, replacements and online advice.

We have also advocated for patients with hearing loss at the highest levels within government to ensure essential support services remain accessible in the weeks and months ahead. If for example, as we expect, there is an extended lockdown period then it is important hearing care professionals can get to work and provide remote care and support to patients who depend on their hearing aids to stay connected.

We will keep members up to date with developments.

Members might also find the following resources helpful:

  • ENT members should continue to follow COVID-19 advice published by ENT-UK – please note the website might not load at peak times due to high traffic, but if you retry there is a dedicated COVID-19 page
  • GP members can use RGCP COVID-19 resources
  • Audiology members can review advice by the BSHAA and/or BAA.

We remind members to encourage colleagues and employees to follow official guidance from health authorities. Our priority remains to keep patients and staff safe while enabling essential and urgent hearing care services to reach those in need in line with official advice and guidance.

Unofficial social media sources will create more risk at a systems level during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR SELF-EMPLOYED AUDIOLOGISTS

We know self-employed people are facing their own unique pressures at this unprecedented time.

The following help is available, with more support expected shortly:

  • The most acute pressure faced by self-employed people who are unable to work during the COVID-19 crisis is how to pay their mortgage and rent. Please visit your bank’s website and search for coronavirus mortgage payment holiday. Banks have put in place special teams to implement the government three-month coronavirus mortgage holiday.
  • If you rent, the government has also announced protections over the next three months. The detail is yet to be published but you can learn more here.
  • Pause on self-employed income tax payment due in July. This will be payable in January 2021. This should ease some short term cash-flow challenges.
  • If you need support with paying a tax bill, you can seek support from the HMRC on a case by case basis by contacting its COVID-19 helpline 0800 0159 559.
 

FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR HEARING CARE PROVIDERS

Hearing care providers have contacted us for help in understanding the range of government support available during this difficult period. We provide a summary below, but members can also get in touch at [email protected].

 

1. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – UK

We know how concerned hearing care providers are about having to potentially lay off loyal staff during this difficult time. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can help minimise the need for these difficult choices.

All UK businesses are eligible.

What you need to do:

  • Assess clinical need in line with official guidance and think about your local service continuity plan. You are unlikely, for example, to need the same level of staffing per practice in the weeks and months ahead, but you will need to maintain a key workforce to continue to serve existing patients for example – such as remote care (see examples of essential services above)
  • If you cannot sustain all your existing workforce then, subject to normal employment law and contracts of employment, you should consider the benefits of designating affected employees as ‘furloughed workers’ and notify affected employees of this change. This will help you retain qualified and trained staff for as long as possible.
  • Tell the HMRC which employees have been ‘furloughed’ and their earnings through a new online portal. Please note we will send out a member alert as soon as the HMRC sets this portal up, but this should not delay you making your local plans now.

How will it work?

HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage cost, capped at £2,500 per month.

HMRC is still working on establishing a new portal and system for reimbursement. In the meantime, if you need short term support then you might be eligible for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (see below).

Can I get other support from the NCHA?

Yes.

We stand ready to have a one-to-one discussion in confidence with hearing care providers about staffing including designating key workers and supporting roles, social distancing and capacity management, and official public health advice in context. This can help members decide on how to best plan at a local level in various scenarios that might emerge. Members should contact [email protected] to set up a call.

Members can also access employment support by emailing [email protected]. Help is on hand to provide key information on employment issues at this difficult time for you and your teams.

 

2. VAT payments paused – UK

To ease cashflow pressures all UK businesses will be able to defer VAT payments for three months.

VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid as usual.

This will apply from 20 March to 30 June. This help is automatic, you do not have to do anything.

 

3. Pause in income tax payment – UK

To ease cashflow pressures, Income Tax Self-Assessment payments due 31 July are automatically deferred until 31 January 2021.

 

4. Sick pay – UK

Official guidance suggests that 1 in 5 employees might be sick at any time during the COVID-19 outbreak.

New legislation will allow employers with fewer than 250 employees to reclaim COVID-19 related Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Total number of employees will be based on your February 2020 data.

This support will cover up to two weeks’ SSP per employee sick and unable to work because of COVID-19.

Providers might also be able to reclaim COVID-19 related SSP paid up to the point new legislation is passed (but the eligibility criteria for backdated payments is to be confirmed).

You should maintain records of staff absence and payments of SSP.

Details on how to make a claim against the scheme are pending. We will update members as soon as the detail is published.

It is vitally important not to put any additional pressure on the health system, so please note, a GP fit note is NOT required. If you require evidence during this period, then ask employees to complete this isolation note from NHS11 online.

 

5. Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) – UK

The British Business Bank has issued guidance including eligibility criteria for small businesses wishing to access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). The business must be:

  • UK based, with a turnover of no more than £41 million per annum
  • Operating within an eligible industrial sector – this includes independent sector healthcare providers
  • Able to confirm they have not received de minimis State aid beyond €200,000 equivalent over the current and previous two fiscal years
  • In possession of a well-thought-through borrowing proposal, but insufficient security to meet the lender’s requirements.

Finance terms are from three months up to ten years for term loans and asset finance and up to three years for revolving facilities and invoice finance.

To apply for a CBILS-backed facility, members should approach their Bank Relationship Manager (or one or more of the 40+ accredited lenders) directly rather than through the British Business Bank.

You can now apply to the scheme. Find out more.

 

6. Support for larger providers – UK

There is a new COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility. The Bank of England will buy short term debt from larger providers affected by short-term funding constraints. This is now live. Learn more.

 

7. Cash grants – England

There are now two cash grant schemes.

The Small Businesses Grant Scheme funding to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because they benefit from small business rates relief (SBBR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief. If you are a small business, you can access a one-off grant of £10,000. If your business is based in England and you already receive SBBR and/or RRR and your business occupies the property in question you are eligible. You do not need to act. The local authority will write to you shortly.

In addition, we wait for guidance on a new cash grant scheme for a wider range of businesses, and we will update members as soon as this is announced. In the meantime, you do not need to act. The government will issue guidance shortly and your local authority will write to you to inform you if you are eligible for this grant. When in place it will work as follows:

  • Eligible retail businesses with a property rateable value of under £15,000, will receive a grant of £10,000
  • Eligible Retail businesses with a property rateable value between £15,001 and £51,000, will receive a grant of £25,000.

You can check the rateable value of your premises here.          

 

8. Interest rate cut – UK

The Bank of England has unveiled an emergency interest rate cut for the second time in just over a week, reducing the base rate from 0.25 to 0.1 per cent – the lowest since 1694. You should check your loan terms and still try and secure preferable rates where possible in order to ease cash-flow pressures.

 

9. Filing your accounts with Companies House on time – UK

You are naturally focused on managing urgent issues that arise as a result of COVID-19 at this stage. If you need additional time to file your accounts with Companies House, you can apply to have an extension. Applying for this can help you avoid a late submission penalty. Details on how to apply for an extension can be found here.

 

10. Update on off-payroll working reforms – UK

Chief Treasury Secretary Steve Barclay has postponed the off-payroll working (also known as IR35) reforms for 12 months until 6 April 2021.

The changes were due to come into effect from 6 April 2020. They would have required large and medium sized companies (as defined) to perform additional checks where they engage off-payroll services through personal service companies (PSCs) to see if they should be on-payroll. This should help reduce additional burdens on providers during this time.

 

11. Business rates holiday and other support

 

England

There will be a business rates holiday for retail and other businesses for 12 months in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year (see below for devolved nations). While the detailed guidance includes ‘opticians’ in the relief scheme it does not make specific reference to hearing services. The NCHA is seeking to clarify this position. In localities that do agree to include hearing care, members may find the relief automatically applied to your next business rates bill in April 2020 (some local authorities may have to reissue bills to reflect the initiative).

The government has clarified that where the scheme is applied:

  • The total amount of government-funded relief available for each property for 2020/21 under this scheme is 100% of the bill (subject to consideration of any other reliefs already applied)
  • There will be no rateable value limit on the relief
  • Business ratepayers that occupy more than one property will be entitled to relief for each of their eligible properties.

Members do not need to act. This business rates holiday will be applied to your next business rates bill in April 2020 although some local authorities may have to reissue the bill to reflect the initiative. This will be done as soon as possible. For the avoidance of doubt, any premises which have closed temporarily due to the government’s advice on COVID-19 should be treated as occupied for the purposes of this relief.

 

Scotland

The Scottish government has announced that with effect from 1 April:

  • A full year’s 100% non-domestic rates relief for retail, hospitality and tourism
  • £10,000 grants for small businesses in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme or Rural Relief
  • £25,000 grants for hospitality, leisure and retail properties with a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000
  • 1.6% relief for all properties, effectively freezing the poundage rate next year.

Details to follow.

 

Wales

In Wales, shops, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or less will receive 100% business rates relief.

Expanding on this support, a new package providing in 2020/21, retail, leisure and hospitality businesses in Wales with one-year business rates relief and a grant of £25,000 for retail, leisure and hospitality businesses with a rateable value of between £12,001 and £51,000.

It also provides a £10,000 grant to all businesses eligible for Small Business Rates Relief – i.e. those with a rateable value of £12,000 or less will be eligible for this grant.

Details will be available in due course.

 

Northern Ireland

There will be a three-month rates holiday for all business ratepayers, excluding public sector and utilities.

This means that no rates will be charged for April, May and June 2020, reducing the 2020-21 annual rate bill for business ratepayers by 25%. This amount does not need to be paid back.

The Small Business Rate Relief scheme will be continued in 2020-21. The rates of relief and thresholds for eligibility have not changed.

The Hardship Rate Relief scheme is available for non-domestic ratepayers affected by exceptional circumstances.

The Northern Ireland Executive has announced two grants to be made available to businesses affected by coronavirus. A grant of £25,000 to be provided to companies in the hospitality, tourism and retail sectors with a rateable value from £15,000 up to £51,000. A grant of £10,000 to all small businesses which are eligible for the Small Business Rate Relief scheme. Details of these have yet to be published.

 

Insurance

The government has confirmed with the insurance sector on 17 March that if your business policy has cover for both pandemics and government-ordered closure then in the event the government advises people to avoid your premises (currently only pubs, theatres etc) that is sufficient to make a claim as long as all other terms and conditions are met.

The government also advises that “Insurance policies differ significantly, so businesses are encouraged to check the terms and conditions of their specific policy and contact their providers. Most businesses are unlikely to be covered, as standard business interruption insurance policies are dependent on damage to property and will exclude pandemics”.

 

Tax helpline to support businesses affected by COVID-19

HMRC has set up a helpline to support businesses concerned about not being able to pay their tax due to COVID-19.

The helpline offers practical help and advice. The number is 0800 0159 559 – and is an addition to other HMRC phone contact numbers.

Opening hours are Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and Saturday 8am to 4pm. The helpline will not be available on Sundays or Bank Holidays.