Business

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26th May 2020

Coronavirus: Advice for Businesses

Advice for Northern Ireland businesses who may be affected by Covid-19 (coronavirus). 

The information on this page was last updated on 26 May 2020.

Grants and Government Support

On 17 April, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that the government-backed loan scheme for large businesses affected by coronavirus has been expanded to cover all viable firms. Now, all viable businesses with turnover of more than £45m will be able to apply for government-backed support. More details of this can be found here.

This complements existing support including the Covid Corporate Financing Facility and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Use the drop-down menu below to see other schemes and support available to businesses in Northern Ireland.

Coronavirus Financial Support Tool

Your business may be eligible for loans, tax relief and cash grants. Use the government's support finder to see what support is available for you and your business. Click here.

 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

Employers can go online to claim cash grants worth up to 80% of wages capped at £2,500 a month per worker. Details can be found here.

£10,000 Small Business Support Grant Scheme

This scheme closed on 20 May 2020.

£10,000 Small Business Grant for rental properties (Total NAV of £1,590 or below)

This scheme closed on 20 May 2020. 

£25,000 Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Grant

This scheme closed on 20 May 2020. 

Rates Support

Click here to find out about additional rates support available for Northern Ireland businesses impacted by COVID-19.

Self-employment Income Support Scheme 

The financial support scheme is designed to ease some of the financial pressures the self-employed face because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Farmers have been encouraged to avail of this. 

Those eligible will receive a taxable grant worth up to 80% of their average trading profit in previous years which HMRC will pay, capped at £2,500 a month, for a period of three months in one instalment.

For more information, click here.

You can claim this if you’re a self-employed individual, or a member of a business partnership where your business has been adversely impacted by coronavirus. You can check eligibility using the self-employed checker tool here.

Bounce Back Loan Scheme

The Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) enables smaller businesses to access finance more quickly during the coronavirus outbreak.

The scheme helps small and medium-sized businesses to borrow between £2,000 and up to 25% of their turnover. The maximum loan available is £50,000.

The government guarantees 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months. After 12 months the interest rate will be 2.5% a year.

You can apply for a loan if your business:

  • is based in the UK
  • was established before 1 March 2020
  • has been adversely impacted by the coronavirus. 

If your business was classed as a business in difficulty on 31 December 2019 you’ll need to confirm that you’re complying with additional state aid restrictions.

To apply, click here.

NI Micro-business Hardship Fund

A new Hardship Fund aimed at micro-businesses which have not been able to avail of the existing support schemes and which require financial support due to the impact of COVID-19 is now available. 

This Hardship Fund provides much-needed support to thousands of businesses suffering financial difficulties as a result of COVID-19. Social enterprises and charities will be able to access the fund if they meet the eligibility criteria. 

Businesses should ensure they meet the following criteria before applying to the fund:

  • The business must be based in Northern Ireland.
  • At 29 February 2020, the business must have employed between one and nine employees paid via PAYE.  Businesses, where the sole employee is the business owner or company director, are not eligible for this scheme.  The number of employees will be based on headcount. 
  • Since 1 March 2020, the business must have experienced a reduction in turnover in excess of 40% as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic or associated Government restrictions.

You must complete the eligibility checker to apply for the fund

Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The Government has extended maximum loan size available through the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme from £50 million to £200 million.

Click here for further information.

Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme

The recently announced Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will go live from 26th May, when a new online service will be launched for small and medium-sized employers - with fewer than 250 employees - to recover Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) payments they have made to their employees.

Employers will receive repayments at the relevant rate of SSP that they have paid to current or former employees for eligible periods of sickness starting on or after 13 March 2020.

Full guidance can be found here.

£300-10,000 National Lottery Awards

Click here.

£1.5 million for the Fishing Industry

Click here.

£40 million Hardship fund by Department for the Economy

Click here.

£15 million for Charities from Department for Communities

Click here.

Trade Credit Insurance

The government will temporarily guarantee business-to-business transactions currently supported by Trade Credit Insurance, ensuring the majority of insurance coverage will be maintained across the market. This will support supply chains and help businesses to trade with confidence as they can trust that they will be protected if a customer defaults on payment.

Read more here.

Energy

Energy Advice (electricity and natural gas) for small businesses

The Consumer Council represents and safeguards the interests of small businesses as well as general consumers in the area of energy.

In this guide we provide information and advice for small businesses who have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak and need help with their electricity and natural gas. We will update this page with new information as it becomes available.

Electricity and natural gas services and communications during COVID-19

The Consumer Council has been in touch with all the electricity and natural gas companies in Northern Ireland. They have confirmed that the electricity and gas supply remains strong and that they will continue to provide all essential services, respond to emergencies and undertake critical maintenance and essential works.

Please note that electricity and gas companies are receiving a much higher than normal volume of calls. Only contact your supplier if you need to, and please allow for more time and be patient if you are contacting your energy supplier.

I have had to close my business or reduce my opening hours

Contact your electricity and natural gas supplier if you know you are closing your business or reducing your opening hours, even on a temporary basis. Otherwise you may continue to receive bills based on your previous consumption. You may want to share your personal contact details with them. This could be important if suppliers need to get in touch with you.

If you are leaving the premises, we recommend that you switch off any appliances no longer in use, in particular heating or cooking equipment, and change timers to help keep energy consumption down.

If you plan to claim from your insurance company, you should take a photo of a meter reading before you leave your premises. Insurers could ask for this evidence when assessing claims.

My business is experiencing financial difficulties

If you are struggling with your electricity or natural gas payments, we advise that you contact your supplier as soon as possible.  Your supplier may be able to offer a different tariff or contract options and will try to find a solution. It is advisable to have a recent meter reading when you contact your supplier to make sure that your bills reflect your actual consumption.

If you want more information on Coronavirus financial support and advice for small businesses, visit www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk, the Federation of Small Businesses at www.fsb.org.uk/campaign/covid19.html, or covid-19smallbusinessgrants.economy-ni.gov.uk. Farmers can obtain advice also from Rural Support at www.ruralsupport.org.uk.

Meter Readings

Electricity and gas companies have stopped taking meter readings until further notice to protect the health and wellbeing of their staff and the public.

The Consumer Council recommends business owners to obtain regular electricity and natural gas meter reads to ensure the bills are accurate during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is particularly important if your consumption has substantially decreased or increased. Otherwise you energy supplier will use your previous consumption to estimate your next bills.

You can provide your meter reading to NIE Networks or your supplier for electricity and to your gas supplier for your natural gas. Make sure you to keep a note of your meter readings.

Make sure you are getting the best price for your electricity or natural gas

The Consumer Council has an online energy price comparison tool for small businesses. This enables small businesses, charities or organisations to compare electricity and natural gas prices from all of the suppliers in Northern Ireland.

Click here.

Do you have a complaint?

The Consumer Council provides free advice and can investigate complaints about buses, trains, planes, ferries, natural gas, electricity, coal, water and postal services. 

If you have contacted the company concerned and they have not solved the problem or you are not satisfied with their response, we may be able to help. We have the legal power to act on your behalf and investigate your complaint.

You can provide details of your complaint to our Consumer Protection team by email at [email protected] or by phone on 0800 121 6022. You can also submit your complaint via our website, here.

'Switch On' Energy Information Guide

If you want to know more about energy for your business, you can download The Consumer council ‘Switch On’ guide for small businesses. The guide covers everything from bills and tariffs, contracts, energy efficiency to making a complaint.

You can download a copy here.

Energy Useful Contacts

Electricity

  • NIE Networks - 03457 643 643
  • Budget Energy - 0800 012 1177
  • Click Energy - 0800 107 0732
  • Electric Ireland - 0345 600 5335
  • Go Power - 028 8676 0600
  • Naturgy - 0113 3605 191
  • Power NI - 03457 455 455
  • 3T Power - 0333 600 8800

Natural Gas

  • Electric Ireland - 0345 600 5335
  • Firmus Energy - 0800 032 4567
  • Flogas - 028 9073 0277
  • Go Power - 028 8676 0600
  • SSE Airtricity Gas - 0345 850 8940

Online Sellers

Post Office, Royal Mail and eBay teamed up to offer ten top tips for sellers operating during lockdown.

Register on an online marketplace to sell your goods

eBay recently wavered fees to list or sell for all new businesses registering on its platform until 31 May 2020. Register as a business account and the new seller offer is automatically applied. Then, you’re ready to start listing your items.

Check for restrictions on goods you want to send by post

Check whether there any restrictions which may mean that items you want to sell can’t be sent by post, e.g. because they contain prohibited goods or are too large

Choose how you are going to ship the items to your customers

You can buy postage at your local Post Office, online via the Royal mail App or website and on the eBay website.

We are continually updating information on couriers and parcel deliveries here.

Calculate the postage price based on the weight and size of your items

You can do this on the Post Office website, and via the Royal Mail App – and decide whether you include this in the price you charge to customers.

Decide whether you’re going to allow your buyer to return items

Also, be sure to check out eBay’s returns policy before you start selling.

Package your items safely and securely

Do this before you take them to the Post Office to ensure you minimise your time in-branch and protect the safety of yourself and branch staff.

Ensure you post items in a timely fashion

To ensure that your customer is satisfied, post your items within the timeframe stated in your listings.

We are continually updating information on couriers and parcel deliveries here.

Drop off your shipments at a branch that is convenient for you

Check on the Post Office or Royal Mail websites for further information on opening hours.

 

Consolidate your visits into a Post Office to make as few trips as possible

Consider incorporating your trip into your exercise time, as per social distancing guidelines.

If frequently posting lots of items, customers should consider using Post Office’s free Drop and Go service

Customers can drop off their items, the Post Office will do the weighing and printing of postage, and the customer minimises their time in the branch.

Information is available here.

Water

Protect Your Business

With many properties closing their doors for a period of time and students leaving rented accommodation, NI Water is asking businesses and property owners to check their water supply is safely secured before they lock up. Leaking or burst pipes can have significant implications for your business. Securing your water supply is something you can do until your doors open again. 

Non-domestic customers should turn off all non-essential water in buildings which are not going to be in use for a period of time, including, for example, the automatic flushing of urinals. Large leaks that go undetected can have a major impact on water supplies that are essential for the health and well-being of all their customers.  

Water Bills

Water and sewerage bills for business and non-domestic customers will be held back until July so businesses do not face this additional burden during the current health emergency. Click here to find out more.

Water Bill Health Check

Although we can’t come out and visit your premises at the minute, The Consumer Council's Water Team are still available to provide any help or advice in relation to water efficiency or complaints. Your can email queries to [email protected]

Water Guide for Businesses and Not-For-Profit Organisations 

We have recently published a guide for businesses and not-for-profit organisations to help them with water billings, water efficiency, charges, complaints and more. You can download a copy here.

Turning your taps on safely after lockdown

NI Water has issued guidance for businesses, building owners, manager and landlords, and for those who operate water or refill fountains in their premises for when they re-open following lockdown. Click on the drop-down menu below to read NI Water's guidance.

NI Water's advice

  1. To ensure that the water in the plumbing systems is fresh, run all taps individually, starting with the tap nearest to where the water enters the building and moving systematically to the most distant outlet. It should be sufficient to run until the water is clear and feels cool to the touch. Building owners should also be mindful of the risks to all non-drinking water systems as well such as heating systems.
  2. Where water is supplied from storage, storage cisterns should be emptied and filled with water direct from the incoming supply, before the taps are flushed; flushing should be carried out in a manner which minimises aerosol generation. For example, removing shower heads prior to flushing, to reduce the risks of Legionella transmission. Safety considerations should be made for those flushing including appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE); ensure that all appliances are also thoroughly flushed through before use, using manufacturer’s instruction manual.
  3. If the property has any internal filters or water softeners, these should be checked to ensure they are working correctly as outlined in the manufacturer’s instruction manual;
  4. If plumbers are required to make any changes or repairs to the plumbing system, a list of contacts can be accessed at WaterSafe
  5. For larger buildings, those with tanks, showers, water heaters and more complex pipework the expectation is likely to be for more extensive flushing followed by cleaning and disinfection. If you have a complex plumbing system you should ensure you have a competent person to oversee this work.

Business Banking

Ulster Bank are offering support for their business customers, you can find it here.

Food Businesses

The Food Standards Agency has now published guidance to assist food businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.  The new guidance has been developed with The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and covers a range of areas including good hygiene practice, management of employee sickness, and social distancing for specific food business settings. 

Following the announcement by the Northern Ireland Executive and the publication of the ‘Pathway to Recovery’ document, the Food Standards Agency has collated guidance for food businesses operating during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Advice is provided to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely in the food sector and complements the wider business guidance published by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. You can also find more information on workplace safety guidelines and social distancing on NI Business Info.

The Food Standards Agency website provides information for food manufacturers, restaurants and takeaways, and the farming and agriculture sectors. The guidance covers a range of areas, including social distancing, cleaning and staff training. It outlines the hygiene processes and requirements food businesses must follow as they develop new ways of working.

Voluntary and Community Organisations

NICVA has developed an online resource for voluntary and community organisations impacted by Covid-19, including advice on funding, advocacy, HR and governance. Click here to access it. 

Coronavirus Community Fund

Community Foundation has information on its pages and a fund that community organisations can apply for. Click here for more information.

Community Support 

Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council are asking community groups, charities or organisation who are offering Covid-19 community support to submit details of the type of help you’re offering into their online form, and they will add it to the Local Support Directory

Council Responses for Community Groups

Antrim and Newtownabbey - Have given grants to 45 local community groups.

Ards and North Down - Have a weekly food distribution service.

Armagh City, Banbridge, Craigavon - £1,000 fund for voluntary, community and social enterprise sector. Click here.

Belfast City - Distributing 4000 food parcels and deliveries of prescriptions a week for the Department of Communities and have allocated £100k for emergency food aid grants.

Causeway Coast and Glens - £2,000 grant. Click here.

Derry City and Strabane - Created a community resilience programme of £280,000.

Fermanagh and Omagh Council - Grants for vulnerable groups. Click here.

Lisburn and Castlereagh - Grants of up to £3,000. Click here.

Mid and East Antrim - Grants of up to £1,000.

Mid Ulster District - Grants for organisations who are responding to COVID-19. Click here.

Newry, Mourne and Down - Running a community coordination hub for vulnerable groups.

Skills Toolkit

The Department for the Economy has launched a Skills Toolkit, a new online platform giving people easy access to free, high-quality digital and numeracy courses to help them build up their skills, progress in work and boost their job prospects. You can access the toolkit here

All courses on the Skills Toolkit are available to people right across the UK and links through to the NI Careers Service.

Useful Links

Advice NI

The Advice NI Business Debt Service offers FREE tailored, independent and impartial advice for Sole Traders, Partnerships and Limited Companies. They provide telephone debt advice and solutions for trading or former trading businesses experiencing financial difficulties. The free phone number is 0800 083 8018 and the website also has a list of useful template letters.

Belfast Chamber of Commerce

The Belfast Chamber of Commerce are updating their website on a regular basis and have a dedicated coronavirus webpage with plenty of advice for businesses in and around Belfast.

CBI

The CBI (Confederation of British Industry) have a Coronavirus Hub on their website.

Enterprise NI

Enterprise NI have listed support that’s available to businesses affected by coronavirus on its website.

Federation of Small Businesses

The Federation of Small Businesses has developed an information resource on its website.

Institute of Directors

The Institute of Directors has developed a Coronavirus Hub which includes a page specifically on the help available for Northern Ireland businesses. 

Invest NI and NI Business Info

Invest NI’s website has lots of information for businesses in Northern Ireland affected by coronavirus.

The NI Business Info page has a coronavirus section which provides advice to businesses on a range of issues such as how to access the support that has been made available to Northern Ireland businesses and employees.

Manufacturing NI

Manufacturing NI has also produced a COVID 19 Hub

Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce

The Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce has also developed a Coronavirus Hub.

The Consumer Council

If you are experiencing personal financial difficult and want more information on the help available, The Consumer Council website provides guidance on the different agencies that can provide support and how to contact them.

Ulster Farmers Union

The Ulster Farmers Union has produced a COVID 19 Factsheet for farmers.

Women In Business NI

Women In Business NI have a Coronavirus Support and Guidance page for members on its website