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.
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.