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How the UK government is supporting retailers amid the COVID-19 crisis

It’s impossible to get away from the current global crisis we are facing. As countries around the world try their best to stop the spread of the Coronavirus COVID-19, businesses of all types and sizes are figuring out how they are going to get through the next few months – and how that’s going to affect them for the rest of the year, and possibly beyond.

That’s why it felt right to try and outline as much information as possible about how the UK government is helping and advising retail and tech businesses.

With daily updates on the current status, and things rapidly changing, please be aware that although everything in this article is correct at the time of going to print, there may be changes in advice and help from the government. PCR advises that all businesses and self employed workers make use of the resources and information at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

Best practice for employees working together

The government advises that businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible. If this is not possible, here are some measures employers should take to ensure their workers are safe in their workplace.

– If someone becomes unwell in the workplace with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the advice to stay at home

– Employees should be reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues

– Frequently clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, using your standard cleaning products

– Employees will need your support to adhere to the recommendation to stay at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) to others

– Those who follow advice to stay at home will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP) from the first day of their absence from work

– Employers should use their discretion concerning the need for medical evidence for certification for employees who are unwell. This will allow GPs to focus on their patients

– If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online, and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website

– Employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible

If you are an employee working from home, or in the office/ shop floor at this time. Here is some advice for protecting yourself and others.

– The most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of a new continuous cough and/or high temperature. If you have these symptoms, however mild, stay at home and do not leave your house for 7 days from when your symptoms started. You do not need to call NHS 111 to go into self-isolation. If your symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days, contact NHS 111 online. If you have no internet access, you should call NHS 111. For a medical emergency dial 999.

– Wash your hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds using soap and hot water, particularly after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose, or after being in public areas where other people are doing so. Use hand sanitiser if that’s all you have access to.

– To reduce the spread of germs when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or your sleeve (not your hands) if you don’t have a tissue, and throw the tissue in a bin immediately. Then wash your hands or use a hand sanitising gel.

– Clean and disinfect regularly touched objects and surfaces using your regular cleaning products to reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.

Cleaning guidelines for your office

If you suspect an office or shop worker, or visitor, may have the virus, here are some best practices for cleaning your environment.

– Cleaning an area with normal household disinfectant after someone with suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) has left will reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people

– If an area can be kept closed and secure for 72 hours, wait until this time has passed for cleaning as the amount of virus living on surfaces will have reduced significantly by 72 hour

– Wherever possible, wear disposable or washing-up gloves and aprons for cleaning. These should be double-bagged, then stored securely for 72 hours then thrown away in the regular rubbish after cleaning is finished

– Using a disposable cloth, first clean hard surfaces with warm soapy water. Then disinfect these surfaces with the cleaning products you normally use. Pay particular attention to frequently touched areas and surfaces, such as bathrooms, grab-rails in corridors and stairwells and door handles

– If an area has been heavily contaminated, such as with visible bodily fluids, from a person with coronavirus (COV- ID-19), consider using protection for the eyes, mouth and nose, as well as wearing gloves and an apron

– Wash hands regularly with soap and water for 20 seconds, and after removing gloves, aprons and other protection used while cleaning

Government’s support for businesses

The Chancellor has set out a package of targeted measures to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by COVID-19. This includes a package of measures to support businesses including:

– Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: Under the scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue pay- ing part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.

– Deferring VAT and Income Tax payments: The government will support businesses by deferring Valued Added Tax (VAT) payments for 3 months. If you’re self-employed, Income Tax payments due in July 2020 under the Self-Assessment system will be deferred to January 2021. For VAT, the deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020. For Income Tax Self-Assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 will be deferred until the 31 January 2021.

– Statutory Sick Pay relief package for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs): This refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19. Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible – the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020

– 12-month business rates holiday for all retail, hospitality, leisure and nursery businesses in England: The government will introduce a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.

– Small business grant funding of £10,000 for all businesses in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief.

– Grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.

– The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme offering loans of up to £5 million for SMEs through the British Business Bank.

– A new lending facility from the Bank of England to help support liquidity among larger firms, helping them bridge coronavirus disruption to their cash flows through loans the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme.

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