COVID-19

23 Mar 2020

As all of our members and key stakeholders are, we are adjusting the way we work in accordance with Government guidance, to ensure that we continue to represent members effectively and deliver a first-rate service to all during the rapidly evolving Covid-19 pandemic. 

We have already seen many excellent examples of property businesses acting to support their customers and communities through these unprecedented times. Please do let us know of any concerns that your business has, or actions it is taking, in respect of Covid-19.

Support To Members 

In a rapidly evolving political and policy environment, we are continuing to work with our members to understand your issues, represent your concerns to Government and in the media and do what we can to support you.

We have set up a dedicated coronavirus task force and are also using our existing committee network to identify and address the wide range of issues impacting on all parts of the sector.

We have decided to merge our weekly Covid-19 newsletter with our BPF weekly update. If you are a member and do not receive our weekly update and would like to, please let us know here.

Please do let us know if there are issues relating to Covid-19 or otherwise that we should be addressing, or we can support you. All staff are contactable either by email or by phone or contact us here.

Resources 

Further to the requirements of the NHS and associated organisations to occupy new premises on a short term basis to help fight against COVID-19, we have, with the help of our members, produced a template Licence to Occupy that can be used by relevant parties to coordinate and agree the short term occupation of commercial properties. Download the template here.

Support For Business

A package of support for business has been announced by the Chancellor. We provide some details below, but information and advice from Government can change quickly. For all the latest Government information, please visit the UK Government website, the Scottish Government website, the Welsh Government website or the Northern Irish Government website, or access the latest BEIS newsletter for business here.

Extra advice can be found on the government's dedicated Business Support website and a helpline 0300 456 3565, the government’s summary page on financial support for businesses, and UK Finance has a dedicated coronavirus webhub here. There is a quick guide to what support you might be able to access here.

The Government's Recovery Strategy
The Government has published a Recovery Strategy, setting out the approach to a phased recovery and the roadmap to lifting restrictions step by step. A guide to 'Staying alert and safe' has also been published, explains the measures that will help you to stay safe as we continue to respond to the challenges of coronavirus. 

Travel-to-work
Government guidance for passengers on public transport use.

TfL travel advice and the busiest tube and rail stations to avoid during peak hours - here.

TfL’s guidance for businesses

TfL’s guidance for Retail businesses

Health and Safety 
One of the most important issues for employers and the sector at present is how to return to the workplace safely when public health guidance allows. There is a variety of good information published by private sector organisations, trade and professional bodies and Government. We are trying to collate as much of this as we can on our Returning to Work page.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is working closely with the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) and Public Health England (PHE) and the HSE website has the latest guidance and information for employers and employees. You can get the latest news and updates from HSE by subscribing to their eBulletins here.

PHE has also developed guidance specifically for employers and businesses regarding coronavirus. 

HSE statement on how it will regulate workplaces: The Government has given the HSE a critical role in regulating social distancing in the workplace. The HSE has issued a statement on how it will approach that task.

Vat and Tax
For all businesses, Q1 VAT payments have been deferred with immediate effect there will be no payments between now and the end of June. Businesses will have until April 2021 to pay this back, easing cash flow immediately. Self-assessment payments are also deferred until January 2021.

All businesses that have outstanding tax liabilities as a result of cashflow issues can request extra help through HMRC’s Time to Pay system.

Business rates 
For retail, leisure and hospitality businesses, the Business Rates retail discount in England has been raised to 100% for the 12 months of 2020-21, and properties that have a rateable value of below £51,000 will also be eligible for a grant of up to £25,000 distributed by local authorities (see ‘Government loans and grants’). 

Government loans and grants 
The Bank of England has a new scheme to buy short-term debt from large businesses with an investment grade credit rating experiencing severe short-term disruption to cashflows – the Covid Corporate Financing Facility. Companies that need £5m or more will be able to contact their existing bank to request more details. The scheme is open now and information can be found here.

From the week of 23 March, small firms (up to £45m in turnover) are able to apply for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) a funding facility of up to £5m with no interest payable for the first 12 months. CBILS offers firms funding for up to 6 years through an overdraft, a term loan, invoice finance or asset finance.

From 20 April larger businesses with a turnover of more than £45m are able to apply for the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS) providing a funding facility of up to £50m depending on turnover. Full details of both schemes are available from the British Business Bank here.

From early April, all businesses in receipt of Small Business Rates relief and Rural Rates Relief will also be eligible to receive a £10,000 cash grant. Eligible businesses in England in receipt of the Expanded Retail Discount with a rateable value of less than £51,000, will be eligible for cash grants through the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant scheme of up to £25,000 per property. These will be distributed through Local Authorities who will get in touch in early April. See full details of the grants here.

For employers 
All businesses are eligible to receive grants from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to cover up to 80% of the salaries of workers (up to £2,500 per month) that a business has to furlough as a result of coronavirus. 

The scheme is live from 20 April and currently covers 4 months from 1 March 2020. The government has published guidance on the scheme and a step by step guide on how to apply.  ​

Small businesses will also be able to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay paid for sickness absence due to coronavirus, for up to two weeks of an employee’s salary. The rebate mechanism for this is being developed at present, and more information on eligibility can be found here.

For Universities 
The Department for Education (DfE) issued guidance this week to universities on key worker status alongside a template authorisation letter which can be given to staff. DfE has clarified that universities can also provide staff employed by private PBSA providers with these authorisation letters.

Commercial tenancies 
The government has introduced emergency legislation through the Coronavirus Act 2020 to ban evictions for commercial tenants until 30 June 2020 (with the ability for this deadline to be extended).

Should this not be paid once this clause of legislation has lapsed, landlords will be able to claim for forfeiture. This approach encourages businesses that are in a position to make their rent payment to do so, whilst providing a period of grace to those that are struggling. The guidance is clear that this is not a rent holiday, and that landlords will still be owed rent.​

Hogan Lovells have kindly put together a rent deferral letter to help in any rent deferral discussions with occupiers.

Code of Practice for commercial property relationships
Government has published a code of practice with the support of the BPF to help commercial landlords and tenants map out plans for economic recovery during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The code is designed to provide clarity for businesses when discussing rental payments and to encourage best practice so that every part of the chain is supported.

The code is voluntary in nature and is relevant for all commercial leases held by businesses in any sector which have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

It encourages tenants to continue to pay their rent in full if they are in a position to do so and advises that others should pay what they can, whilst acknowledging that landlords should provide support to businesses if they too are able to do so.

It will apply across the UK and encourages tenants and landlords to be transparent in their discussions and to act reasonably and responsibly whilst recognising the impact that coronavirus has had on businesses’ finances.

Residential 
The Government has published guidance for residential landlords and tenants: 

  • Measures relating to notices seeking possession as amended by the Coronavirus Act 2020;  
  • Court action on possession cases during the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak; and 
  • Property access and health and safety obligations in the context of coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions, including the conduct of gas and electrical checks.

Government has also published guidance to advise local authorities in England how to go about their duties during the Covid-19 outbreak.   

These guidance documents are available here.

Guidance has also been issued for those affected by building remediation issues, waking watches, etc: here.

Guidance on energy performance certificates here.

Construction
Much of our work on the impact of Covid-19 on construction is being done in partnership with a coalition of organisations supporting the Construction Leadership Council. It has published a range of useful support documents, including:

The UK Government’s position remains that construction activity can continue, providing it is done safely in line with PHE guidelines. A letter from the Business Secretary explaining this and thanking the sector for continuing to work can be found here.

The construction sector coalition we are a part of has also submitted a letter to the Prime Minister, which explains what the sector is doing and how working in partnership with Government it can aid recovery.

Covid-19 testing has been extended to anyone showing symptoms who can’t work from home, and therefore will include some of those involved in property management, safety, security and construction work. More details can be found here. 

Planning 
The government has given local authorities in England temporary powers to hold public meetings virtually by video or telephone conferencing from 4 April. The Planning Inspectorate issued an update on its work during the coronavirus pandemic on 25 June.

The Government has confirmed two measures of support asked for by the BPF. Planning permissions that lapse between lockdown starting and the end of this year, will automatically have their deadlines extended to April 1st 2021. This is subject to the Business and Planning Bill currently in Parliament getting approved. Draft guidance has been issued. Likewise, the Government has used the Bill to formalise arrangements on extending construction hours of work. More details are available in this draft guidance.

We have submitted proposals to government for a range of other planning easements designed to maintain momentum in the planning process.     ​