Chancellor loosens the purse strings as restrictions start to bite

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Date: 22 October 2020

Vector detailing the three levels of UK lockdown

Rishi Sunak has unveiled a new package of measures designed to "significantly increase the generosity and reach" of the coronavirus winter support schemes.

It means that businesses that remain open but are experiencing difficulties because of coronavirus restrictions will be given more financial help to keep staff on. The chancellor will increase support through the existing Job Support and Self Employment Income Support  (SEISS) schemes and expand business grants in high-alert level areas.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: "I've always said that we must be ready to adapt our financial support as the situation evolves, and that is what we are doing today. These changes mean that our support will reach many more people and protect many more jobs."

Job Support Scheme (JSS)

When originally announced, the JSS – which comes into effect on 1 November – saw employers paying a third of their employees' wages for hours not worked, and required employers to be working 33% of their normal hours.

Today's announcement reduces the employer contribution to those unworked hours to just 5%, and reduces the minimum hours requirements to 20%. As an example, the government says a full-time employee who is normally paid £1,100 per month will still take home at least £807 a month. All the employer needs to pay is £283 a month; the government will pay the rest.

Employers will also continue to receive the £1,000 Job Retention Bonus. The scheme aimed at those legally required to close their business remains unchanged.

Self-employed grant

Self-employed workers will also get more generous grants under the new rules. These grants will be available to anyone who was previously eligible for the SEISS grant one and grant two, and who meets the eligibility criteria.

Grants will be paid in two lump sums - the first grant will cover a three-month period from the start of November 2020 until the end of January 2021. This taxable grant will be calculated based on 40% of three months' average trading profits, paid out in a single instalment and capped at £3,750.

The second grant will cover a three-month period from the start of February until the end of April 2021. The government will review the level of the second grant and set this in due course.

Business grants

There will be additional funding to support cash grants of up to £2,100 per month primarily for businesses in the hospitality, accommodation and leisure sector in high-alert level areas. These grants will be available retrospectively for areas who have already been subject to restrictions.

The grants could benefit around 150,000 businesses in England, including hotels, restaurants, B&Bs and many more who aren't legally required to close but have been adversely affected by local restrictions nonetheless.

Reaction from business groups

Responding to the announcement, Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "This is a very significant improvement in the support available to businesses struggling with the impact of increasing restrictions across the UK."

Jonathan Geldart, director general of the Institute of Directors (IoD), said: "The new and improved Jobs Support Scheme is to be welcomed, and should go some way to easing company directors' fears … Taking a national approach will help to cut through the confusion of different tiering systems and backroom political negotiations."

He also praised the additional support for self-employed workers but added that the continued exclusion of small company directors is "deeply frustrating". However, he concluded: "The chancellor's willingness to fine-tune support in light of the developing circumstances will continue to be absolutely vital in the months ahead."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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