Chancellor Rishi Sunak sets out the three new Covid support measures available for businesses
Omicron-hit hospitality businesses will be able to claim up to £6,000 cash grants and companies can receive compensation for employees’ sick pay, as part of a new support package, the chancellor has announced.
Rishi Sunak has announced three new “generous” measures to help the arts and hospitality industries get through what should be their busiest period, as restaurants’ bookings plummet and theatres are forced to close amid a sharp increase in Covid cases.
From Tuesday, small and medium-sized companies – those with less than 250 employees – can be reimbursed by the government for the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences of up to two weeks per employee, said the chancellor.
“Eligible” hospitality and leisure businesses “impacted by Omicron” will be able to apply for a one-off cash grant of up to £6,000, said Mr Sunak. However, it is not yet clear how employers will be asked to prove how they have been affected.
Businesses in the arts will also receive further funding with £30 million allocated to the Culture Recovery Fund to help support the likes of theatres and museums.
What exactly does the new Omicron financial bailout include?
- “Eligible” hospitality and leisure companies can claim one-off cash grants worth up to £6,000 per premises. It is understood that all hospitality and leisure businesses can apply, as long as they can prove they have been “impacted by Omicron”. It is not yet clear how businesses will be asked to prove how they have been impacted.
- Small and medium-sized companies – those with less than 250 employees – can be reimbursed by the government for the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for up to two weeks per employee. Firms are eligible for the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme (SSPRS) from today and will be able to make claims retrospectively from mid-January.
- A £30 million boost to the Culture Recovery Fund to support organisations in the arts, such as theatres, museums and orchestras through the winter until March 2022.
- Local authorities in England will also received a more than £100 million boost via the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) . Each local authority will have discretion to allocate this funding to businesses most in need.
Although the self assessment deadline is not until 31 January, there continues to be an increase of taxpayers choosing tax returns over turkey by using the festive period to submit their tax returns online
In fact, last year a huge 31,400 taxpayers submitted self assessment tax returns between 24-26 December; with 20,200 tax returns submitted on Christmas Eve, 2,700 submitted on Christmas Day and a further 8,500 filed on Boxing Day.
Roan Lavery, CEO and co-founder of FreeAgent, said: ‘Small business owners and self-employed people have been hit the hardest over the last 24 months with the impact of both Covid-19 and Brexit. There has also been a mental health impact on small business owners since the start of the pandemic with over half (51%) of small business owners polled saying they had experienced burnout since the start of the pandemic and over a third (35%) say they are working longer hours.’
Here we set out tips and advice on how to prepare your annual self assessment return.
Get online – if you are new to self assessment, register with HMRC and give yourself a few weeks to complete the process. HMRC revealed that more than 10.7 million customers completed a tax return by 31 January 2021, of those 96% were submitted online.
Gather your files – gather all your relevant information before you can file your tax return. Depending on your circumstances, this could include proof of self-employed income, a P60, P45 or a P11D. As a basic rule, you’ll need to show any money received or earned from pretty much anywhere – including wages from a job, income from a trust, and interest from your bank account (except an ISA). If you’re a limited company shareholder, you’ll also need to provide proof of any dividends received during the tax year. You don’t want to be gathering this paperwork at the last minute, so make sure this is all in order ahead of time.
Use resources online and get professional advice if you need to – make sure to consult HMRC’s website or get help from a professional accountant or tax adviser to make sure you understand all of the regulations in place specific to your business.
Make next year easy by keeping your accounts up to date – if you keep your accounts up to date all year, then this will help you to avoid having to rush to meet the deadline for filing your tax return. This way you can enjoy your festive break with nothing hanging over your head!
‘We all deserve a rest this holiday period, so make sure you get yourself prepared in order to enjoy turkey and not tax returns this Christmas Day,’ said Lavery.
The reporting requirements for statutory sick pay (SSP) have been changed temporarily due to the latest covid situation
Between 10 December 2021 and 26 January 2022 employers cannot ask employees for proof of sickness until the absence has lasted for 28 days or more. It has also been made clear that SSP cannot be withheld due to late medical evidence.
This change is in light of the exceptional pressure placed on GPs in managing the government booster rollout.
This is a significant change from the usual requirement that requires a medical certificate to be provided after seven days of absence and will be difficult to manage for many employers.
Employers should be careful to make it clear to staff that this is a temporary change only and not a permanent change to the sickness absence notification procedure.
While employers cannot ask for proof of sickness for non-Covid-related absences, it remains possible to ask for proof of a positive test or isolation request for those absences that are Covid related.
Employers may be concerned that employees will use this change to their advantage and claim sickness for longer periods than necessary. If not already in place, it is highly recommended to have a thorough return to work process in which the sickness absence is discussed in detail and documented to assess for future patterns and possible evidence of inappropriate use of the sickness procedure.
The Bank of England has raised the bank base rate for the first time in three years to 0.25%, despite concerns over omicron variant
At its meeting ending on 15 December 2021, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted by a majority of 8-1 to increase Bank Rate by 0.15%, to 0.25%.
This is the first increase in the base rate since 2018 and marks increasing pressure on the Bank as the inflation rate rises to 5.1%, with energy, food and second hand car prices, forcing up the cost of living.
The Committee voted unanimously for the Bank of England to maintain the stock of sterling non-financial investment-grade corporate bond purchases, financed by the issuance of central bank reserves, at £20bn.
Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ‘’The Bank of England has thrown out an anchor to try stop the fast currents of inflation taking the economy into more dangerous waters.
‘The rate rise to 0.25% which increases the cost of borrowing, is aimed at dampening down demand and does risk sending already weak sectors further off course. But policy makers clearly see rampant inflation as an even more treacherous tide to deal with, with the CPI reading this week showing prices are already accelerating at levels not predicted until next spring.
‘Instead of battening down the hatches and waiting for the latest covid storm to subside, they are taking action now to prevent an even sharper spiralling upwards of prices.
The rise in interest rates had an immediate impact on the value of sterling.
Jay Mawji, managing director of global liquidity provider IX Prime said: ‘For the Bank’s rate setting committee to have voted so convincingly – by 8 to 1 – to press ahead with a significant rate rise has sent sterling soaring.
‘Earlier Bank predictions talked about interest rates climbing steadily during 2022, hitting 1% by this time next year.
‘While the Bank reserves the right to slow the pace of the rate rises if the current wave of Covid-19 infections and restrictions hammer economic growth, today’s decision is a big statement of intent.
‘With consumer inflation at 5.1%, a 10-year high and two and half times greater than the Bank’s target, it is acting decisively to get inflation under control. For months the Bank has been hinting that rate rises were coming, and despite the Omicron fears, it has clearly concluded that it is now or never.’
The government plans to consult on a further extension of the state pension age, with indications it will pull back the start date for the 68 year retirement mark
The review will consider whether the rules around pensionable age are appropriate, based on the latest life expectancy data and other evidence, and will report back by May 2022.
State pension age is currently 66 and two further increases are currently set out in legislation: a rise to 67 for those born on or after April 1960; and a rise to 68 between 2044 and 2046 for those born on or after April 1977. However, it now looks increasingly likely that the start date for the increase to 68 years will be brought forward.
The first review of state pension age in 2017 concluded that the next review should consider whether the increase to age 68 should be brought forward to 2037-39, seven years earlier than originally planned. It is now increasingly likely that people will be expected to work longer
This review will consider a range of evidence, including the implications of the latest life expectancy data; and it will produce an assessment of the costs of an ageing population and future state pension expenditure.
Two independent reports have been commissioned – one from the government actuary’s department to look at life expectancy projections. The second is to be led by Baroness Neville-Rolfe, which will also consider what needs to be considered when setting the state pension age.
The government is also reviewing the current age limit for pension drawdown from private pensions and is likely to raise the age to 57 years from the current 55-year limit, meaning that there will be later access to pension pots.
HMRC is reminding self assessment customers to declare any Covid-19 grant payments on their 2020/21 tax return, including SEISS claims which are taxable
More than 2.7 million customers claimed at least one Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) payment up to 5 April 2021. These grants are taxable and taxpayers must declare them on their 2020/21 tax return before the deadline on 31 January 2022.
The SEISS application and payment windows during the 2020/21 tax year were:
- SEISS 1: 13 May 2020 to 13 July 2020
- SEISS 2: 17 August 2020 to 19 October 2020
- SEISS 3: 29 November 2020 to 29 January 2021
If taxpayers received other support payments during the pandemic, including Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) grants, they may need to report this on their tax return if they are self-employed; in a partnership; or a business.
Information on which support payments need to be reported to HMRC and any that do not is available on the gov.uk website.
It is important that taxpayers check and make any changes to their tax return to make sure any SEISS or other Covid-19 support payments have been reported correctly in their self assessment.
Myrtle Lloyd, HMRC’s director general for customer services, said: ‘We want to help customers get their tax returns right, first time. We have videos, guidance and helpsheets available online to support you with your self assessment. Search ‘help with self assessment’ on gov.uk to find out more.’
HMRC has created resources to help taxpayers complete their tax return including a playlist on YouTube, webinars, and helpsheets and guidance available on gov.uk.
HMRC recently announced that more than 20,000 customers, who were unable to pay their tax bill in full, had used the self-serve time to pay facility, bringing in an estimated £46m. The online payment plan helps taxpayers who may feel worried or anxious about paying any tax owed by enabling them to spread the amount into manageable monthly instalments, up to the value of £30,000.
If taxpayers owe more than £30,000, or need longer to pay, they should call the self assessment payment helpline on 0300 200 3822.
HMRC urges everyone to be alert if they are contacted out of the blue by someone asking for money or personal information. Taxpayers should always type in the full online address www.gov.uk/hmrc to get the correct link for filing their self assessment return online securely and free of charge. HMRC sees high numbers of fraudsters emailing, calling or texting people claiming to be from the department. If in doubt, HMRC advises not to reply directly to anything suspicious, but to contact them straight away and to search gov.uk for ‘HMRC scams’.
Taxpayers that were employed and received CJRS (furlough) payments during the 2020/21 tax year will need to enter earnings and income tax as stated on their P60. The P60 will include any furlough payments received up to 5 April 2021, so these furlough payments do not need to be included on tax returns.
The risks from Covid-19 are still very much present in the workplace and it is important to remember that employers have a duty of care towards their employees to protect the health and safety of their workforce. This information is being continually checked and updated.
The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). This particular episode has been named “Covid-19” and appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, China.
The symptoms include a fever, cough, shortness of breath and loss or change of sense of smell or taste. Some people may suffer from a mild illness and recover easily, while in other cases, infection can progress to pneumonia. Reports suggest that the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease are the most susceptible to serious illness and death. Symptoms can appear in as few as two days after infection or as long as 14 days.
The virus is said to most likely spread from person to person through:
- direct contact with a person while they are infectious
- contact with droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes
- touching objects or surface that were contaminated by droplets from secretions coughed or sneezed from an infected person with a confirmed infection.
Latest Government guidance
The advice is under constant review and is subject to change. You can keep up to date on latest Government developments here.
Duty of care
Employers have a duty of care towards their employees which includes not exposing them to unnecessary risk. In this case, that may include not putting them in a position in which they could become infected by the virus without taking all reasonable precautions.
Your duty of care, where coronavirus is concerned, may differ depending on an employee’s specific circumstances, for example, if they are in the risk category, for example over 70 or if they have underlying conditions.
In addition to having a duty of care to protect health and safety, you also need to consider their wellbeing. Consider any wellbeing initiatives you have and remind employees of them, for example, an Employee Assistance Programme.
Give employees the facts
The risk of becoming infected will differ depending on personal circumstances but it is important to convey to employees the reality of the situation to keep concern proportionate to the risk and encourage good hygiene.
For the latest travel advice, you can keep up to date with the latest Government guidance here.
If an employee has a confirmed case of coronavirus
Your normal sickness absence and pay policy will apply to employees who have coronavirus, as will payments of SSP. For sickness absences related to Covid, there are no waiting days so payments can be made from day one, where a period of incapacity for work is created.
See our Statutory Sick Pay topic for further details.
If an employee has returned from an affected area, then develops symptoms and stays at home
This is best treated as sickness absence due to the display of symptoms and your normal policies will apply. You may wish to consider other options such as working from home as a temporary measure while the employee self-isolates (see above).
Employers who have concerns about an employee’s exposure
Where you have concerns about a non-symptomatic employee (for example, it is known or suspected that the employee has had contact with someone known to have the virus but does not live with them) then the best advice is to follow the Government and NHS advice and advise the employee to self-isolate as needed.
Self-isolation, shielding and pay
The Government is advising that certain people should self-isolate for certain periods.
Those who experience even minor symptoms should self-isolate for 10 days; those who live with someone who develops symptoms should self-isolate for 10 days, unless they have been double vaccinated, are under 18, or are medically exempt from vaccination (unless the contact is with the Omicron variant, in which case these exemptions do not apply). If they experience symptoms, they must comply with a further 10-day period from the point their symptoms start..
Those who receive a notification from a track and trace service that they have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus are also required to self-isolate for 10 days, unless they have been double vaccinated, are under 18, or are medically exempt from vaccination, although they are recommended to take a PCR test as soon as possible. That is, unless the contact is with the Omicron variant, in which case these exemptions do not apply
In addition, those who have been advised by a registered medical practitioner (or other person or body permitted to make the notification) that they are to undergo a surgical or other hospital procedure and have been advised to self-isolate for a period of up to 14 days before their hospital admission, should do so.
On 28 September, the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Self-isolation) (England) Regulations 2020 came into force which introduced various criminal offences in respect of self-isolation. It is now an offence for an employer to knowingly allow a worker to attend any place for any purpose relating to their employment during the designated period of self-isolation. Breaches of this law can result in a fixed penalty notice of £1000 for the first offence increasing to £10,000 for repeated offences.
The terminology here is important; a breach is not restricted to an employer’s requirement for the employee to attend the workplace, or even a request. It is also not restricted to attendance at the workplace, but covers attendance at any place for any purpose relating to their employment.
The employer must be aware of the employee’s need to self-isolate, and of any breach of the self-isolation requirement by the employee. Workers are now under a legal obligation to inform their employer of the need to self-isolate; however, this only applies where the employee is not already working from the place they are self-isolating which is likely to be their home. Therefore, this will not apply when the employee is already working from home.
Employers may wish to confirm this stance to their employees by reminding them of the need to inform the employer of the requirement to self-isolate, and that they are prohibited from attending the workplace, or any other place for the purposes of work, during the self-isolation period.
Emergency legislation put in place requires statutory sick pay (SSP) to be paid to those self-isolating as described above in order to prevent the infection or spread of the virus in accordance with public health guidance, who is then unable to work as a result, providing they meet the other eligibility criteria.
Where the first day of absence was 13 March 2020 or later, SSP is payable from day one for anyone self-isolating, provided that other eligibility criteria is met including that the employee earns at least the lower earnings limit, and has been absent for at least 4 days in order to create a “period of incapacity for work”.
Those advised to shield on or after 16 April 2020 were entitled to SSP. Shielding was paused in August and officially brought to an end on 15 September 2021. Moving forward, centralised guidance on isolation for clinically vulnerable people will not be issued.
In addition, measures have been put in place for employees to obtain medical evidence from NHS 111 rather than their own GP. “Isolation notes” will provide you with evidence that your employee has been advised to self-isolate. You may ask for this document to evidence absence of over seven days, in the same way as with a normal “fit note” from the GP. As with normal sickness absence, no isolation notice will be issued for the first seven days, during which employees can self-certify.
The notes can be accessed through the NHS website and NHS 111 online. The note will be emailed to the employee, or in some cases, directly to you.
In respect of those who have received a notification informing them of close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, the notification they received can be used as evidence.
Employers may be able to agree a period of homeworking during self-isolation or shielding provided the employee remains fit for work, or annual leave, in which case full pay will be maintained.
Employees who are pregnant
Current guidance outlines that pregnant employees should be considered as clinically vulnerable. Employers already have a legal duty to assess the risks that the workplace could pose to pregnant employees and must take steps to mitigate these. The threat of the coronavirus must therefore also be taken into account when decisions are made regarding whether pregnant employees can continue to conduct their role safely.
Employees who refuse to come to work due to concerns
From 13 December 2021, Government advice is that those who can work from home, should do. For those who cannot, if an employee is worried about catching the virus and refuses to attend work, Acas suggests listening to the employee’s concerns and offering reassurance. Your response to this will depend on the actual risk of catching the virus at work. It will be different for every employer and will depend on specific circumstances including whether anyone in the workforce has already been diagnosed or there is another real risk of exposure. You may decide to offer a period of paid annual leave or unpaid leave or allow the employee to work from home where this is feasible. Your response should be reasonable to the specific situation.
Government advice in Scotland and Wales is now to encourage businesses to allow staff to work from home where necessary and appropriate. In England, the Government stance from 13 December is that employees should work from home where they are able to do so, unless physical or mental difficulties mean this is deemed inappropriate, or where there is a particularly difficult home environment.
Foreign travel and quarantine
The rules for international arrivals into the UK are being regularly reviewed and updated by the Government, and the most up-to-date information is available on the Government website.
As it stands on 9 December 2021, the following rules apply.
Red list countries
Only the following may enter England from a red list country (or where the traveller has been in a red list country within 10 days of arrival):
- a British or Irish National
- those with residence rights in the UK.
The list of countries on the red list is regularly reviewed and updated. The most up-to-date list is available on the Government website.
The rules for red list countries apply to all travellers, regardless of vaccination status.
Before arrival from a red list country
- take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England
- book a quarantine hotel package, including two Covid-19 tests
- complete a passenger locator form.
- Quarantine in a managed hotel, and take two Covid-19 tests.
Travelling with children
- Children aged 12 to 17 must take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England.
- On arrival in England children aged 5 to 17 must quarantine in a managed hotel for 10 full days and take two Covid-19 tests.
- Children aged 4 or under do not have to take any travel tests but must enter managed quarantine.
Transiting through a red list country on the way to England
Whether the red list rules need to be followed as a result of a transit stop in a red list country depends on what happens during the stop.
Where border control is passed at the airport during the transit stop.
- the traveller disembarks from the ship
- other passengers disembark then re-board the ship
- new passengers get onto the ship.
If the traveller leaves the train.
Private vehicles or coaches travelling through red list countries or territories
The rules of the countries and territories driven through apply. Where the traveller has driven through a red list country, then the red list rules must be followed on arrival in England, whether the vehicle stops or not.
All other countries
Before travel to England:
- take a Covid-19 test — to be taken in the two days before travel to England
- book and pay for a Covid-19 PCR test — to be taken after arrival before the end of day 2
- complete a passenger locator form — to be completed in the 48 hours before arrival.
Even where the stay in England is for less than two days, a test must be booked and paid for on day 2. Travellers must quarantine until either they leave England or receive a negative test.
On arrival, all vaccinated travellers must quarantine at home or other accommodation until a negative test result is received (or 14 days, whichever is sooner). If a positive result is received, a full 10-day quarantine must be completed.
The fully vaccinated rules apply for:
- under 18s
- those taking part in an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial in the UK or the USA (US residents only for USA trials), or a phase 2 or 3 vaccine trial that is regulated by the EMA or SRA
- those unable to have a Covid-19 vaccination for a medical reason which has been approved by a clinician under the medical exemptions process, and resident in England.
Proving vaccination status
- NHS Covid Pass for England and Wales
- NHS Scotland Covid Status app
- CovidCert NI in Northern Ireland.
Paper certificates are also available.
There are different ways to prove vaccination status for vaccinations outside of the UK.
Before travel to England:
- take a Covid-19 test — to be taken in the two days before travel to England
- book and pay for day 2 and day 8 Covid-19 PCR tests — to be taken after arrival in England
- complete a passenger locator form — to be completed in the 48 hours before arrival in England.
- quarantine at home or in the place they are staying for 10 full days, regardless of test results
- take pre-booked Covid-19 PCR tests on or before day 2 and the second test on or after day 8.
Even where the stay in England is for less than two days, a test must be booked and paid for on day 2 and day 8.
Test to Release scheme
It is possible to pay privately for a test and be released from quarantine early.
Travelling with children
Children aged 4 and under do not have to take any Covid-19 travel tests.
Children aged 12 to 17 must take a Covid-19 test in the two days before travel to England.
Children aged 5 to 17 have to follow the testing and quarantine rules for people who qualify as fully vaccinated on arrival in England.
This means that they have to quarantine on arrival and take a PCR test on or before day 2.
Ireland, the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man
The following does not apply when travelling from the above:
- complete a passenger locator form
- take any Covid-19 tests
- quarantine on arrival in England.
Statutory sick pay is not payable to those who self-isolate on return from overseas.
Closure of business
Various lockdowns and business closures were in effect for much of 2020, and into 2021.
From 10 December 2021 “Plan B” is applied in England. This means that with effect from Friday 10 December, masks must be worn in most public venues, including theatres and cinemas, unless someone is medically exempt. This will not apply in premises where people are eating or exercising.
From Monday 13 December, guidance to work from home wherever this is possible will be reintroduced.
By Wednesday 15 December, Covid passes will become mandatory for nightclubs, unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 5000 people and any venue with more than 10,000 people.
Two doses will be sufficient for a Covid pass, as will a negative lateral flow test, but this requirement will be kept under review as the booster programme is rolled out.
In Wales, employers (and other businesses) must undertake a bespoke coronavirus risk assessment and take reasonable measures to minimise exposure to, and the spread of, coronavirus based on that bespoke risk assessment. Also, adults and children over 12 must wear face-coverings in indoor public places, with the exception of hospitality settings such as restaurants, pubs, cafes or nightclubs, or for solemnisation of a marriage, formation of a civil partnership or an alternative wedding ceremonies.
In Scotland, face coverings continue to be required in most indoor place, and employers should follow relevant guidance to keep their staff safe.
Furlough and the Job Retention Scheme
The Government announced the Job Retention Scheme on 20 March 2020. The Scheme ran until the end of September 2021.
The Job Support Scheme
The Job Support Scheme was due to commence on 1 November after the end of the Job Retention Scheme. However, due to the extension of the Job Retention Scheme, the Job Support Scheme will not now be used.
If the employer continue to have issues providing work after furlough
Lay-off or short-time working may be an appropriate alternative. Employees who are ready and willing to work but are not provided with work (as would be the case with a temporary closure), or reduced work, can be placed on lay-off or short-time working. Lay-off must be with full pay unless there is a provision within the contract for lay-off without pay (subject to the payment of statutory guarantee pay for employees with at least one month’s service at the time of lay-off). If there is no contractual provision, you can attempt to agree with employees a period of unpaid lay-off.
This may also occur when the business itself has not taken the decision to close, but where, for example, the landlord of the building from which the business operates has decided to close its doors, meaning that no one can enter. In this situation, employers should consider whether it can temporarily move to an alternative location or permit its employees to work from home. If no other alternative can be found, a period of lay-off may be required.
Closure of schools
School closures have been in place from time to time as part of the pandemic response, but currently schools are open for all children.
NHS test and trace service
On 28 May 2020, the NHS test and trace service was launched in England. The service:
- provides testing for anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus to find out if they have the virus
- gets in touch with anyone who has had a positive test result to help them share information about any close recent contacts they have had
- alerts those contacts, where necessary, and notifies them they need to self-isolate to help stop the spread of the virus.
The Government states that, by following instructions to self-isolate, people who have had close recent contact with someone with coronavirus will be protecting their family, friends, colleagues and other people around them, and will play a direct role in stopping the spread of the virus.
When someone first develops symptoms and orders a test, they will be encouraged to alert the people that they have had close contact with in the 48 hours before symptoms started. If any of those close contacts are colleagues, the person who has developed symptoms may wish to (but is not obliged to) ask their employer to alert those colleagues. At that stage, those close contacts are not advised to self-isolate, but they:
- must avoid individuals who are at high-risk of contracting coronavirus, for example, because they have pre-existing medical conditions, such as respiratory issues
- must take extra care in practising social distancing and good hygiene and in watching out for symptoms.
“Close contact” means:
- having face-to-face contact with someone (less than 1 metre away)
- spending more than 15 minutes within 2 metres of someone
- travelling in a car or other small vehicle with someone (even on a short journey) or close to them on a plane.
Those who test positive will be asked, via the service, whether they have had any such close contact in the 48 hours before they developed symptoms and the time since they developed symptoms.
The service will then contact anyone they report as having had close contact with and tell them to begin self-isolation for 10 days from their last contact with the person who has tested positive, even if they do not feel unwell, unless they are fully vaccinated, under 18, or medically exempt from vaccination (these exemptions do not apply if there has been contact with the Omicron variant).
The practical effect of this service is that many more individuals are likely to self-isolate. In addition, large parts of a workforce, or an entire workforce, may receive an alert telling them they should self-isolate because one member of the workforce has tested positive for coronavirus. Employers can help to combat this by ensuring that employees work from home where possible, or implementing strict social distancing and hygiene measures in the workplace where home working is not possible.
Self-isolation is a legal duty and anyone under the duty who is found not to be self-isolating faces fines starting at £1000 and increasing to £10,000 for repeat offenders.
The Government has put together guidance for employers, which stresses that their role in the system is vital by:
- making their workplaces as safe as possible
- encouraging workers to heed any notifications to self-isolate and supporting them when in isolation.
It acknowledges that, although this may seem disruptive for businesses, it is less disruptive than an outbreak of coronavirus in the workplace will be, and far less disruptive than periods in lockdown.
Employers should support employees who need to self-isolate and must not ask them to attend the workplace.
If an employee needs to self-isolate, employers should consider whether they are able to work from home. This might include finding alternative work that can be completed at home during the period of self-isolation.
Employees who cannot work from home will be entitled to receive SSP in line with the guidance on self-isolation given above due to further legislative amendments. SSP is not payable to those who are required to quarantine on return to the UK from overseas. Alternatively, the employer may agree that a period of annual leave is to be taken so that full pay is maintained, or another form of paid leave that is available to the employee.
Giving options to ensure full pay is maintained may be particularly important due to the possibility that an employee may be reluctant to self-isolate if it means a drop in pay. Employers may wish to strongly encourage employees who receive a notification to make this known, and to self-isolate, in order to protect the rest of the workforce.
The NHS test and trace service will provide a notification that can be used as evidence that someone has been told to self-isolate.
A similar scheme, called “test and protect” is in place in Scotland.
Maintaining records of staff
On 18 September 2020, the Government changed its guidance surrounding the maintaining of records to track who is visiting venues within certain venues in England, making it a legal requirement for designated venues to collect contact details for the purposes of NHS Test and Trace in England, alongside displaying official NHS QR code posters. This has now been repealed, but businesses and venues remain strongly encouraged to continue to collect this data, especially in the following sectors:
- tourism and leisure
- close contact services
- facilities provided by local authorities.
Surge testing for new variants
Surge testing is increased testing (including door-to-door testing in some areas) of all residents and enhanced contact tracing in specific locations in England and can look different depending on assessment of local requirements.
There are currently no areas affected by this, but this is subject to change.
Wider effect on employment law
Gender pay gap reporting
The Government suspended the obligation to report on the gender pay gap in 2020 due to the coronavirus. Companies with 250 or more employees are required to submit their gender pay gap information once a year; for the private sector, the deadline is 4 April; for public sector, it is 30 March. In recognition of the extra pressure placed on businesses at this time, there was no requirement to publish the data in 2020.
The requirement to publish data returns for 2021. This means reporting on data from the snapshot date of 5 April 2020 (31 March 2020 for public sector). The Government will not consider implementing enforcement action for failure to provide 2021’s report until October 2021; this effectively gives employers a further six months past the usual deadlines for reporting data.
The Government has confirmed the following in relation to 2021 reports:
- employees who were on furlough on the snapshot date are counted when determining whether the 250-employee threshold is met
- employees on furlough on the snapshot date are not to be included in calculations on hourly pay
- but employees on furlough on the snapshot date are to be included in calculations on bonuses.
Because employees who are not in receipt of full pay on the snapshot date are excluded from the reporting pool for calculations on hourly pay, the pool may be a lot smaller than usual due to the fact that a significant number of employees in the UK would have been on furlough on the snapshot date. Employers may find that the resulting gender pay gap in hourly pay is quite different from previous years. It is important, therefore, for employers to use the accompanying narrative to explain any impact on the results caused by coronavirus.
The laws on annual leave have been amended to allow more flexibility on the carry over of leave. Previously, four weeks of annual leave was exclusive to the year in which it was accrued, meaning it could not be carried over except where it could not be taken because of sickness absence or annual leave. The remaining 1.6 weeks of leave could be carried over to the next leave year subject to the employer’s agreement.
The restriction on carrying over the four weeks of leave has been lifted for circumstances where it was not reasonably practicable for a worker to take some or all of their leave as a result of the effects of coronavirus (including on the worker, the employer or the wider economy or society). Workers now have the right to carry forward leave accrued in this leave year to the next two leave years. The carry over of the 1.6 weeks’ leave is still subject to agreement from the employer.
The rules on pay in lieu of accrued holiday on termination of employment have also been amended. Pay in lieu should include an element reflecting leave which was carried over in this way but remains untaken at termination.
Modern slavery statements
The Government has relaxed the rules around compliance with modern slavery requirements. An updated Government guide makes clear that businesses must continue their activity to identify and address risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains but recognises the challenges presented by the virus in publishing their statement within the usual timeframe. It notes “reduced staff capacity” as one such challenge. It states that “businesses which need to delay the publication of their modern slavery statement by up to six months due to coronavirus-related pressures will not be penalised”. The reason for any delay to the publication should be set out in the delayed statement.
Statements are required from all businesses who have an annual turnover of at least £36 million, and must normally be published within six months of the end of the company’s financial year.
- Move to home working if it is possible to do so, from 13 December 2021.
- Assess the risk of exposure in your business operations including any overseas workplaces.
- Remind yourself of your business contingency plan/pandemic contingency plan.
- Send communication to all employees reminding them of good hygiene measures.
- Ensure there are sufficient soap supplies available and consider providing tissues and hand sanitiser to the workforce where the workplace is permitted to remain open.
- Speak with those in charge of cleaning the workplace and ask for frequent deep cleans.
- Ask employees to keep you informed of any overseas holiday travel so you can manage their return.
- Remind employees of your annual leave cancellation procedures.
- Decide how you will deal with pay during self-isolation, eg will it be no pay, sick pay or full pay?
- Create a work contingency plan in case key members of the workforce are absent.
- Ensure managers are aware of coronavirus symptoms so they can spot it quickly.
- Check whether you have a lay off with reduce pay clause in place in the event that you need to close the business temporarily.
- Remind employees of any employee assistance programme available to them if they have general concerns about virus.
After the UK’s Chief Medical Officers decided to raise the Covid Alert Level from Level 3 to Level 4, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued a personal appeal calling for people to “get jabbed”.
“A tidal wave of Omicron is coming,” Mr Johnson said as he announced that all adults in England are to be offered a booster jab by the end of the year. The devolved administrations have also agreed to accelerate vaccinations.
Recent data suggests that vaccine efficacy against symptomatic infection is substantially reduced against the Omicron variant with just two doses, but a third dose boosts protection back up to over 70%.
From Monday 13 December, adults over 30 will be able to book online through the National Booking System (available at https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-vaccination), and all over 18s will be able to do so from 15 December.
Some walk-in appointments will be available from the earlier date for over 18s, dependent on location. If there are long queues or all slots have been booked, people are encouraged to be patient and keep trying, or to book online.
All primary care services will now focus on urgent clinical need and vaccines and some non-urgent appointments and elective surgeries may be postponed until the New Year while every adult in the country is jabbed, the Prime Minister explained.
He also said that there will be increasing opening times for vaccination sites, to seven days a week with more appointments early in the morning, in the evening and at weekends.
In addition, 50 military planning experts will help co-ordinate the national effort by supporting the NHS with logistics of the rollout.
The latest BDO business survey revealed that 80% of mid-sized businesses expect rising fuel prices, supply chain disruption, and increasing energy costs to impact end of year trading
The bi-monthly survey of 500 business leaders from accountancy firm revealed that a third of businesses surveyed expect to increase the prices of their goods and services as a direct result of rising inflation with the same number concerned about increasing energy prices and a third also concerned about supply chain disruption.
Overall, 80% of medium-sized business leaders expect their end of year trading to be impacted by at least one of these three factors with 34% also citing Covid-19 restrictions as an issue likely to impact the availability of products and services.
Meanwhile, despite warnings around higher living costs in the next few months, almost a fifth, 17%, of business leaders said they would not be able to increase pay, which BDO stated ‘could bring challenges’ in attracting new staff at a time when competition for is fierce.
Diving deeper into the impact of inflation, BDO‘s survey revealed that 32% of businesses plan to cut the number of products and services they offer as a direct result of inflation. This, in particular, was an issue for manufacturing businesses, with 39% planning to decrease the number of products on offer and a similar number set to increase prices.
Around a quarter of businesses, 26%, see rising inflation and potentially higher interest rates as the issues that will have the biggest impact on their business in the next year.
Ed Dwan, partner, BDO said: ‘Following a year of disruption, many businesses will have been hoping for a strong finish to 2021 and a fresh start for 2022. The harsh reality is that continued supply chain issues, rising energy prices, and increasing costs mean that many are taking further drastic measures to stay afloat. These issues could also be further exacerbated by the new Covid-19 variant.
‘The speculation around interest rate rises is only set to increase, and it’s fair to say all eyes will be on the Monetary Policy Committee when they make a decision later this month.’
Going forward, nearly half of respondents, 45%, are prioritising managing their domestic or international supply chains in the next three months, above other business operations, and as businesses look to the longer term.
However, despite ongoing issues 62% of businesses expect to return to pre-pandemic revenues in the next 12 months.