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Support through the coronavirus pandemic

Posted: 30th March, 2020 Support through the coronavirus pandemic

To try and give you a helping hand, we’ve collated some useful resources from various statutory bodies. The information is constantly being reviewed so we recommend you keep a close eye on these official websites for information updates:

Sick pay and isolation

Employees who have symptoms, have been told they have symptoms or live with someone who has symptoms must get an isolation note from 111.nhs.uk/isolation-note. You should expect your employees to complete the online process and pass the completed form to you. This will give you an audit trail to support your claim for SSP if you’re inspected once the dust has settled.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Compile a comprehensive list of your furloughed staff: full name, address, DOB, NI number, start date etc for affected employees. Submit information of furloughed staff wages via the new HMRC portal. Read more about the Government Gateway at www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme. For clients of our Payroll service, we’ll manage your portal submissions as an integral part of our service to you. If you aren’t using our outsourced Payroll service and want to, please drop us a line at info@quillpayroll.co.uk.

The government's 4th April changes introduced to furloughed leave guidance comprise employers being required to notify furloughed staff in writing and keeping a record of this communication for five years including written acceptance from employees; ability to re-employ employees who've stopped working on or after 19th March 2020, placing on furlough leave and claiming for wages through the scheme; facility for employers to claim for any regular payments paid to employees including wages, past overtime, fees and compulsory commission payments; employees being permitted to work for another employer whilst on furlough leave (if contractually allowed); and clarification on specific areas with different PAYE employees, including company directors, LLP members and apprentices.

As of 12th May, the furlough scheme has been extended by the government to the end of October. Read the announcement at www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-extends-furlough-scheme-until-october.

Deferral of VAT payments

Two key takeaways of deferral of VAT payments due to coronavirus for all UK VAT registered businesses as explained on the www.gov.uk/guidance/deferral-of-vat-payments-due-to-coronavirus-covid-19 web page. First, submit your VAT return on time in the normal way. Second, if you want to defer payment and normally pay by direct debit, cancel your DD instruction now.  You will have to pay the outstanding VAT by the end of March 2021 as things currently stand.

Guidance from the SRA & CLC

With coronavirus generating so many questions from law firms relating to home working and continued regulatory obligations, the SRA has helpfully compiled some common queries with answers at www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/coronavirus-qa and published a coronavirus update at www.sra.org.uk/sra/news/coronavirus-update. Topics cover everything from confidentiality and deadlines to missing key role holders and progressing matters without having the client present.

There's guidance on returning to the office when it's practicable to do so at lawsociety.org.uk/topics/coronavirus/practical-framework-for-law-firms-and-sole-practitioners-on-return-to-the-office.

Here’s the equivalent content from the CLC for conveyancing specialists: www.clc-uk.org.

Legal Aid Agency financial relief guidance

The Legal Aid Agency has published changes to its ways of working, with contingency plans, and announced financial support available to legal aid practitioners facing cash flow problems. Read full details at www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-legal-aid-agency-contingency-response.

The Ministry of Justice has announced additional support packages, on top of the Legal Aid Agency's measures, to keep the justice system running during COVID-19. Changes include reducing the threshold for work done to £1000 from £5000. Read more at www.gov.uk/government/news/support-package-for-legal-providers-will-ensure-access-to-justice-during-coronavirus-outbreak.

Government advice for conveyancing specialists

The government's early advice to conveyancers centred around 'prioritising the health of individuals and the public'. As such, conveyancing specialists were told that occupied property moves should only happen if contracts had already been exchanged and deferral was impossible. Instructions dictated that moves into unoccupied properties should only continue subject to certain caveats: www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/guidance-to-conveyancers-advising-clients-on-house-moves.

Where contracts have been exchanged but completion hasn't yet taken place, The Law Society's draft specimen clause for variation agreements is useful to enable conveyancers to identify some of the issues which could legitimately justify delaying completion of transactions. Access details at www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/advice/articles/guidance-for-using-variation-agreement.

The latest guidance from The Law Society regarding the conveyancing marketplace is that safe home moving can now take place, with further details available at lawsociety.org.uk/topics/coronavirus/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-to-conveyancers-advising-clients-on-house-moves.

Data protection obligations

Both the Information Commissioner's Office and organisations are being urged to take a proportionate approach to data protection to permit more frequent remote working and use of personal electronic devices. However, firms are still expected to consider the security implications of homeworking and the need for any risk mitigation.

With regards to employees contracting COVID-19 and employers' data protection requirements, colleagues (and potentially prospects, clients and others to whom contact has been made) should be informed but employers need to decide whether it’s necessary to identify the individual concerned. Find out more by visiting www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-data-protection.

Bounce Back Loans Scheme

Small businesses and sole traders can apply for loans between £2,000 and £50,000 to help make it through the coronavirus outbreak and protect jobs. These loans are charged at 2.5% interest but the first 12 months' repayments are covered by the government. Find out if you're eligible and apply for a loan at www.gov.uk/government/news/new-bounce-back-loans-to-launch-today.

Self-Employed Income Support Scheme

Self-employed individuals or members of a partnership can, from 13th May, claim a grant if earnings have been adversely affected by COVID-19. Once eligibility has been confirmed, grants should be paid within 6 working days. Access record-keeping and reporting requirements, and find out how to submit a claim at www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-self-employment-income-support-scheme.

Additional financial support

Check out this government web page for other financial assistance schemes to support your business through this ongoing period of disruption: www.gov.uk/government/publications/guid