Coronavirus Future Fund opens to applications

The Future Fund, which offers convertible loans of between £125,000 and £5 million to innovative companies facing financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has opened.

The fund is designed to support UK-based companies that have acquired at least equal match funding from private investors.

Aimed specifically at businesses that typically rely on equity investment, the fund is a lifeline for firms that cannot access other forms of Government business support because they are either pre-revenue or pre-profit-based.

To be eligible a business must:

  • be UK-incorporated – if a business is part of a corporate group, only the parent company is eligible
  • have raised at least £250,000 in equity investment from third-party investors in the last five years
  • not had any of its shares traded on a regulated market, multilateral trading facility or other listing venue(s)
  • have been incorporated on or before 31 December 2019.

Businesses will also need to demonstrate that at least one of the following is true:

  • half or more employees are UK-based
  • half or more revenues are from UK sales.

As part of the introduction of the fund, the Government will also amend the rules of the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), to protect Future Fund investors from losing tax relief on their previous investments made prior to any investment through the Future Fund.

The Government has also allocated £40 million alongside the Future Fund via the Fast Start Competition. This is intended to drive forward new technological advances and support innovative start-ups that are fast-tracking the development of innovations borne out of the Coronavirus crisis.

The Future Fund is being delivered by the British Business Bank and will remain open until September.

A Convertible Loan Agreement has been created for those who intend to apply, which can be found here. Further details of this loan scheme and how to apply can be found on the British Business Bank website.

COVID-19 – An assessment of safe working arrangements

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, businesses must assess how their work environment and arrangements can be made safe for employees and visitors.

In response to the Government guidance, we have put together guidelines on the steps you may need to take as a business to provide safe working arrangements.

COVID-19 risk assessment

All employers with more than five members of staff must carry out and share with staff their written risk assessments. Employees should also be given clear, written guidelines on safe working.

Those with 50 or more employees are expected to publish this document on their website and display a signed poster, which can be found here.

Any risk assessment must consider and provide information on:

  • Scenarios that could lead to transmission of the virus
  • Steps a business may take to mitigate risk

Remember – As per the Government’s latest guidance, where possible, employees should continue to work from home if they can. This is particularly important for vulnerable groups.

As an employer, you have a legal duty to protect your employees and others that visit your business, from harm.

Precautions for those returning to work

Where possible you should try and ensure as many employees as possible can continue to work from home, as per the Government’s guidance.

Where employees cannot work from home, you should increase the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning to prevent the spread of this virus.

Staff must also maintain the two-metre social distancing guidelines and you should consider reconfiguring workspaces to help with this where required.

Where social distancing cannot be observed due to the work environment other measures may need to be taken.

Detailed guidance on the various precautions recommended for different workplaces can be found by clicking here.

We recommend that you read these guidelines and consider how you can incorporate these measures into your work arrangements.

Vulnerable employees and visitors

The Government has advised that all vulnerable individuals, such as those with underlying health conditions or in at-risk groups, should remain at home and not return to work.

Where this is not possible, you should ensure that additional caution is taken to observe social distancing rules.

You should continue to follow and monitor Government guidance to ensure vulnerable groups remain protected.

It is important that you do not discriminate against those required to self-isolate or shield, taking into consideration the protected characteristics defined under the Equality Act 2010 (e.g. due to their age or disability).

Allowances should also be given for those who live with or care for someone that is extremely vulnerable.

If you believe an employee may fit into one of these groups, we recommend that you speak with them to ensure the necessary steps can be taken to provide a safe work environment.

Cleaning procedures

All workspaces must be cleaned regularly, and, where possible, windows and doors should be opened regularly to encourage ventilation.

Care must also be taken in respect of the delivery of merchandise or goods that enter the workplace so that they can be cleaned to prevent the spread of the virus.

Where required, additional signage should be installed to remind employees to regularly wash their hands and use hand sanitiser/wash stations provided.

The working environment

As well as encouraging more frequent cleaning, you may be required to take additional measures around the workplace to ensure staff and visitor safety.

This may include:

  • Reducing movement by discouraging non-essential trips within buildings and sites, for example, restricting access to some areas, encouraging the use of telephones, where permitted, and cleaning them between use.
  • Reducing job and location rotation.
  • Introducing more one-way flow through buildings.
  • Regulating the use of high traffic areas including corridors, lifts, turnstiles and walkways to maintain social distancing.

Within specific work areas, you may also be required to:

  • Review layouts and processes to allow people to work further apart from each other.
  • Use floor tape or paint to mark areas to help workers keep to a two-metre distance.
  • Only where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, arranging people to work side by side or facing away from each other rather than face-to-face.
  • Only where it is not possible to move workstations further apart, using screens to separate people from each other.
  • Managing occupancy levels to enable social distancing.
  • Avoid the use of hot desks and spaces and, where not possible, for example, call centres or training facilities, cleaning and sanitising workstations between different occupants including shared equipment.

You should also consider common areas of the building, such as waiting areas and break rooms, and take actions to manage risk, including:

  • Staggering break times to reduce pressure on break rooms or canteens.
  • Using safe outside areas for breaks.
  • Creating additional space by using other parts of the workplace or building that have been freed up by remote working.
  • Installing screens to protect staff in receptions or similar areas.
  • Encouraging workers to bring their own food.
  • Reconfiguring seating and tables to maintain spacing and reduce face-to-face interactions.
  • Regulating the use of locker rooms, changing areas and other facility areas to reduce concurrent usage.
  • Encouraging storage of personal items and clothing in personal storage spaces, for example, lockers.

You should take these measures, and include them within your risk assessment, as and when required to maintain proper social distancing and to reduce the risk of infections.

Travel and commuting

Employees returning to work should be asked to avoid public transport where possible to reduce the spread of the virus.

Employees should also be reminded to maintain a distance of two metres if required to use public transport.

To assist with the travel to and from work, further measures may be taken including:

  • Staggering arrival and departure times at work to reduce crowding into and out of the workplace, taking account of the impact on those with protected characteristics.
  • Limiting passengers in corporate vehicles.
  • Reducing congestion, for example, by having more entry points to the workplace.
  • Using markings and introducing one-way flow at entry and exit points.
  • Providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser at entry and exit points and not using touch-based security devices such as keypads.
  • Defining process alternatives for entry/exit points where appropriate, for example, deactivating turnstiles requiring pass checks in favour of showing a pass to security personnel at a distance.

Employers should discuss any changes to travel arrangements if they believe it may affect their regular working hours.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and face coverings

As part of the risk assessment process, you should review the use of PPE and face coverings in the workplace and if they are required request that staff use the correct equipment.

If employees indicate that they would like to use a face covering at work, you should remind them to thoroughly wash their hands before putting a mask on or taking a mask off.

Face masks should also be replaced after each use. They do not replace the need for proper social distancing at all times.

Working arrangements 

Should you need to introduce shift patterns or change existing working arrangements as employees return to the workplace, you should give those workers affected plenty of notice beforehand.

If staff have any queries regarding a change to working arrangements, they should be encouraged to speak with you at the earliest opportunity to see how you can assist them.

Communication

Any changes to work arrangements or the work environment should be properly communicated with your employees and you are encouraged to consult with them, trade unions and health and safety representatives when preparing a risk assessment.

Once your risk assessment has been prepared you should share it with your employees so they are aware of the steps they need to take and the measures that you are introducing.

 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) extended until October

The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has confirmed that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will be extended until the end of October, with no changes until the end of July when employers currently using the scheme will be able to bring back furloughed employees part time.

From August, the Government has said that furloughed workers will continue to receive 80 per cent of their usual salaries capped at £2,500. However, employers will have to make a currently unspecified contribution to this cost. Details of these arrangements are due to be published by the end of May.

The CJRS currently allows employers to retain employees on the PAYE payroll who are not carrying out work for them by placing them on furlough and to claim a grant of 80 per cent of a furloughed employee’s usual pay, plus employer National Insurance Contributions (NICS) and minimum employer auto-enrolment pension contributions.

The Chancellor said that since the scheme was launched in March, more than one million businesses have furloughed more than 7.5 million workers.

“Covid Secure” practical workplace guidance for employers

The Covid Secure guidance published by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS), covers workplaces that can re-open this week, as well as some the Government hopes will reopen on 1 June 2020:

  • Construction and outdoor work
  • Factories, plants and warehouses
  • Homes
  • Labs and research facilities
  • Offices and contact centres
  • Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
  • Shops and branches
  • Vehicles

The guidance relates to workplaces, rather than sectors. This means that a firm could have workers in several of these workplace categories and will need to take account of the guidance relating to each workplace category. For example, a construction business could have workers on a construction site, in vehicles, in other people’s homes and in offices.

DBEIS says that the key points underpinning the guidance in each type of workplace are:

  1. Those who can work from home should continue to do so, but those who cannot should return to work.

Clinically extremely vulnerable people who have been asked to shield should not return to work, but clinically vulnerable employees may do so if they cannot work from home. However, clinically vulnerable employees should be offered the safest roles available.

The guidance also reminds employers to be mindful of equality in the workplace and that they must not discriminate against anyone who has a protected characteristic, particularly highlighting responsibilities towards disabled workers and new or expectant mothers.

  1. Employers should carry out a Covid-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions.

The requirement to consult with employees means consulting the health and safety representative selected by a recognised trade union or a representative chosen by workers where there is no recognised union.

  1. Maintaining two metres social distancing, wherever possible.

Employers are advised to consider measures such as increasing the number of entry points to the building, staggering start and finish times and introducing one-way systems within buildings.

  1. Managing transmission risk where people cannot be two metres apart.

The guidance says that where two-metre social distancing cannot be maintained, employers should consider whether that activity is necessary for the business to continue to operate. Where such an activity must go ahead, employers should consider the use of increased handwashing and surface cleaning, keeping activities as short as possible, using back-to-back or side-to-side working instead of face-to-face and using small fixed-teams to carry out such work.

The guidance recommends against the use of face-coverings in most non-clinical settings.

  1. Reinforcing cleaning processes.

Employers should assess and clean workplaces before reopening. Once reopened, the guidance contains detailed advice on cleaning the workplace and ensuring effective hygiene at all times.

Businesses and organisations with more than 50 employees are expected to publish their risk assessments online, while all employers are expected to display a signed poster, which can be downloaded with the guidance here.  This includes contact details for the Health and Safety Executive.

In some circumstances, bringing employees back into the workplace could create a risk of an employment dispute arising and so employers should seek advice to minimise the chances of a dispute arising.

Bounce Back Loan scheme is now live – apply today

The Government’s new Bounce Back Loan scheme (BBLS) has now gone live online and is open for applications.

This new scheme is aimed specifically at small to medium-sized businesses looking to borrow a smaller amount to assist them with cash flow and other issues.

Key Features 

  • Businesses can borrow up to 25 per cent of their turnover, from £2,000 up to a maximum loan amount of £50,000.
  • Unlike the Coronavirus Business Loan scheme (CBILS), the BBLS is 100 per cent backed by the Government – ensuring that loans can be provided with fewer checks to more businesses.
  • The BBLS is being administered by the British Business Bank and the loans will be provided by accredited lenders (find details of accredited lenders by clicking here).
  • There will be no interest or repayments due on BBLS finance for 12 months, and after this period the Government has agreed to a low fixed interest rate of 2.5 per cent.
  • The length of the loan is for six years but early repayment is allowed, without early repayment fees.
  • There will also be no guarantee or administration fees, or any requirements for personal guarantees.
  • Businesses that have already acquired finance of £50,000 or less from the CBILS can transfer into the BBLS.
  • Despite the backing of the Government, borrowers will remain 100 per cent liable for the debt from the finance.

Eligibility

The BBLS is open to businesses from most sectors and those applying must be able to self-certify the following to lenders:

  • It is UK-based in its business activity and established by 1 March 2020;
  • It has been adversely impacted by the Coronavirus (Covid-19);
  • It is not currently using a government-backed Coronavirus loan scheme (unless using BBLS to refinance a whole facility);
  • It was not a business in difficulty at 31 December 2019; and
  • It is not in bankruptcy, liquidation or undergoing debt restructuring.

Some organisations are excluded from BBLS finance, this includes:

  • Credit institutions (falling within the remit of the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive)
  • Public sector bodies,
  • State-funded primary or secondary schools
  • Insurance companies.

Application Process 

Once a business has selected an accredited lender via the British Business Bank website here, they will be required to fill in a short online application form on their chosen lender’s website.

This self-certifies that they are eligible for a Bounce Back Loan facility. The bank will then undertake standard customer fraud, Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) checks.

If the bank is satisfied that the borrower meets the conditions of the BBLS then they should be able to release funds within a matter of days – in some cases within 24 hours.

To start the BBLS application process please click here

If one lender turns a business down, they can still approach other lenders within the scheme.

BBLS is designed to be fast for lenders to process and quick and easy for businesses to access, which is why businesses will only be required to fill out a short application form online for each new lender.

Here to help

If you need advice on the most appropriate form of Government-backed finance for your business or would like wider help and support as a result of the current crisis, please contact our team.