Government Support during the COVID-19 Outbreak and what you need to know


Created 24 March 2020. Last updated 30 March 2020.

For current BLM COVID-19 insights click here to be taken to BLM's dedicated Coronavirus Hub. 

COVID-19: What Government support is available to help you through the Coronavirus outbreak and what else do you need to know? BLM's Commercial Advisory & Private Wealth Practice explains

BLM’s Commercial Advisory & Private Wealth Team is committed to remaining clear, concise and connected - supporting our clients and our team during the on-going uncertainty around the spread of COVID-19. With a wide range of robust and stress-tested contingency plans in place to ensure continuity of our business and minimise any disruption to our work, we’re continuing to follow Government guidelines on a daily basis and adjust our response to the evolving situation. The firm as a whole and each of our offices are very much open for business but we’re also working remotely wherever possible, and supporting our clients to do the same.

As part of our on-going commitment to do our utmost to support our clients through these unprecedented times, set out below is a summary of the key business support and other critical measures announced by the Government in recent weeks. 


Social Distancing

Public Health England has issued new Social Distancing Guidance, available here.

Anyone at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 must observe stringent social distancing for a period of three months, and will already have been notified via SMS text messaging.

Everyone must take the following measures as soon as possible:

  • Avoid contact with anyone displaying Coronavirus symptoms, including a high temperature and/or a new and continuous cough
  • Avoid any non-essential use of public transport wherever possible
  • Work from home, wherever possible
  • Avoid gatherings in public spaces
  • Avoid gatherings with friends and family, and keep in touch remotely by phone, internet and social media
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services
  • Wash your hands as often as possible for at least 20 seconds using soap and water or hand sanitiser – as a minimum when arriving home or at work, when you blow your nose, sneeze, cough, eating or handling food
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
  • Cover any cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue into a bin and wash your hands
  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces in homes
  • Self-isolate at home if you develop symptoms, for a period of either 7 or 14 days dependent upon your family situation
  • Use online services wherever possible to obtain food and medicines or ask family, friends or neighbours to support you where possible
  • Do not visit family or friends unless to provide essential care (including help with washing, dressing or preparing meals), and then only when taking extra precautions

Business Closures

Building on last week’s announcement that businesses in the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Centre must close, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Guidance “Further Businesses And Premises To Close” (available here) confirms that all non-essential premises which allow for or enable prolonged close social contact must now close by law, subject to the following limited exception until further notice, and subject to a further Governmental review in three weeks from March 23:

“Non-Essential” Businesses, Premises Or Places Which Must Remain Closed


Food & Drink



Food delivery and takeaway can remain operational.

Cafes, including workplace canteens

Food delivery and takeaway can remain operational. Cafés or canteens at hospitals, care homes or schools; prison and military canteens; services providing food or drink to the homeless.

Public Houses


Bars and nightclubs, including bars in hotels or members’ clubs




Hair, beauty and nail salons, including piercing and tattoo parlours


Massage parlours


All retail, with notable exceptions

Supermarkets and other food shops, health shops, pharmacies including non-dispensing pharmacies, petrol stations, bicycle shops, home and hardware shops, laundrettes and dry cleaners, bicycle shops, garages, car rentals, pet shops, corner shops, newsagents, post offices, and banks.

Outdoor and indoor markets

Market stalls which offer essential retail, such as grocery and food.

Auction houses


Car showrooms




Hotels, hostels, BnBs, campsites and boarding houses for commercial use

Where people live in these as interim abodes whilst their primary residence is unavailable they may continue to do so. Key workers can continue to stay in hotels or similar where required.

Caravan parks/sites for commercial uses

Where people live permanently in caravan parks or are staying in caravan parks as interim abodes where their primary residence is not available, they may continue to do so.

Non-residential institutions




Community centres, youth centres and similar

Facilities may remain open for the purpose of hosting essential voluntary or public services, such as food banks or homeless services. We will do everything to support vulnerable people who are without a network of friends and families.

Places of worship for services

Funerals following the social distancing guidance; places of worship should remain open for solitary prayer.

Live streaming of a service without audience would be permissible.

Cinemas, theatres and concert halls

Live streaming of a performance by a small group could be permissible with social distancing observed.

Assembly & Leisure


Museums and galleries


Bingo halls, casinos and betting shops




Skating rinks


Fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools or other indoor leisure centres


Arcades, bowling alleys, soft play centres and similar


Outdoor recreation


Enclosed spaces in parks, including playgrounds, sports courts and pitches, and outdoor gyms or similar



  • Any business remaining open must ensure a distance of two metres between customers and staff, introduce queue control measures for customers waiting to enter and only allow customers to enter premises in small groups to avoid crowding
  • Parks will remain open, but only for individuals and families to exercise once a day in line with Social Distancing guidelines – all communal spaces within parks such as playgrounds and football pitches will be closed
  • Takeaway and delivery facilities will remain open and operational, and can still be accessed by the public and delivery drivers. Planning regulations will shortly be changed to allow restaurants, cases and pubs to offer new delivery and hot food takeaway services. People must not consume food or drink on site whilst waiting for takeaway food.
  • Further enforcement measures may be introduced as the Coronavirus Bill passes through parliament, and compliance will be monitored by Environmental Health and Trading Standards Officers  - businesses and premises found to be in breach will be subject to Prohibition Notices and potentially unlimited fines.


Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - what is it and how do I access it? And what are 'furloughed' workers/employees?

  • Every UK employer can now access financial support through grants to enable them to continue to pay their employees’ salaries who would otherwise have found themselves laid off as a result of the impact of COVID-19, up to a maximum limit of 80% of salary costs to a maximum cap of £2500 per month.  The intention appears to be that the £2,500 will be a net payment, but confirmation on this point is required from HMRC.
  • The scheme will apply in respect of all employees on PAYE, including those on zero-hours contracts. It will therefore cover workers as well as employees.
  • Employers should act now to get Furlough agreements in place, and ideally signed ready for the opening of the HMRC portal. BLM now has standard Furlough agreements available.
  • Businesses will need to engage with both their employees/workers and HMRC to be able to take advantage of this scheme.  
  • Any affected employees/workers will need to be designated as being “furloughed”, and notified of that change
  • General employment law rules continue to apply - changing the status of any furloughed employee will be a change to the terms and conditions of their employment, which may need to be negotiated and which ideally need to be recorded in writing to be effective – starting those discussions now is about the best thing you can do whilst we wait for further clarity as to how the scheme will work in practice. In the present circumstances, we think that a letter stating that individuals will be treated as furloughed unless they object is sufficient.
  • Once furloughed, employees won’t be able to work for their employer or for anyone else.
  • Businesses can choose to fund any difference between the 80% grant and full salary at their own discretion and without any requirement as part of the scheme
  • HMRC are working urgently to set up an online portal to allow employers to submit details of the earnings of “furloughed” employees/workers, and we’ll provide a link and further detail of any other information required once it’s available
  • HMRC’s existing systems don’t allow for payments to employers, and a new reimbursement system will be announced very shortly
  • Whilst this support will be very welcome for businesses up and down the UK, many gaps on how it will work still need to be filled in - we don’t yet know what the detailed position is going to be in relation to National Insurance and Income Tax or HMRC’s requirements for employers to take advantage of the scheme.
  • It would appear that employers can choose whether to place employees on furlough leave, or make them redundant.  Employees do not have a right to require their employer to place them on furlough leave as an alternative to redundancy.  It is hoped that many employers will see the new scheme as preferable to business closure and making redundancies. 


Statutory Sick Pay - SSP - what is the current position as a result of COVID-19/Coronavirus?

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Public Health England has published new Guidance For Employers and Businesses On Coronavirus, available here

  • Employers should communicate regularly with their staff on action being taken to reduce their risk of Coronavirus exposure, and ensure contact and emergency information is kept up to date
  • Managers should look out for any symptoms of Coronavirus and be clear on sickness reporting and SSP provision to allow them to take appropriate action
  • Businesses and workplaces should encourage their staff to work at home wherever possible
  • Anyone within the workplace exhibiting Coronavirus symptoms should be sent home immediately and advised to follow the advice to stay at home
  • Employees should be reminded to wash their hands more frequently and for at least 20 seconds, as well as catching coughs and sneezes in tissues
  • Any object or surface which is touched frequently should be disinfected regularly
  • Employers should support their staff in working from home and employees from defined vulnerable groups should be strongly advised and supported to stay at home and work from there if possible or to follow social distancing guidance
  • Legislation is being brought forward to allow small-to-medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim statutory sick pay (SSP) which they have paid in relation to any absence as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, from the day after the new regulations come into force
  • The refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee in businesses with fewer than 250 employees as of 28 February 2020
  • Employers will need to maintain records of absence and SSP paid, but employees will not need to provide a Fit Note from their GP – if employers need supporting medical evidence, then Isolation Notes can be obtained through NHS 111 Online or notes for anyone living with someone with symptoms are available through the NHS Website
  • HMRC will put a new repayment portal in place for Employers as soon as possible


General Employment Law Considerations

Over and above the recent Government Guidance, our own immediate advice for Employers is:

  • No travel to high risk areas and only essential travel nationally/regionally
  • Any staff returning from “high risk” countries or who refuse to self-isolate against government advice can be told not to come to work (based on the employer’s duty to protect the health and safety of other employees) but any exclusion from the office should be specifically tied to potential exposure
  • Restrict face-to-face contact with clients and customers, avoid internal meetings and cancel company/sponsored events
  • Identify key staff and who can take their place if absence
  • Any Employee within a vulnerable group are strongly advised to follow social distancing guidance, and to apply it to how they travel to and from work and within the office if working from home is not possible
  • Risk assessments are required for pregnant employees, who could be medically suspended on full pay
  • If employees refuse to come to work out of concern for infection of themselves or a member of their household, consider flexible or home-working arrangements, unpaid leave or holiday – it remains a disciplinary offence not to come into work, but in the current circumstances being able to fairly dismiss as a result of absence is unlikely, and warnings will need to be given
  • Employees may need to take time off work to deal with an emergency involving a dependent, although this is usually unpaid and must be “reasonable” – Employers should show more discretion as a result
  • Employees may be eligible to take unpaid parental leave to look after their child’s welfare, up to 18 weeks for each child up to their 18th birthday, but only up to 4 weeks’ leave for each child can be taken in any one year unless otherwise agreed
  • If you decide to close an office, have alternative working arrangements in place where feasible, alongside clear lines of communication and consider:
    • Reviewing employment contracts for lay-off or short time working clauses
    • Seeking employees’ agreement to taking unpaid leave or reduced working hours
    • Giving notice to employees to take statutory holiday on specified dates, provided that any notice given is at least twice the length of the holiday requested
    • Whether you need to consult employees about redundancy
    • Making company loans available


Coronavirus Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (added 26 March 2020)

  • The income support scheme will pay people  earning more than half of their income from self-employment a taxable grant worth up to 80% of average monthly income, capped at £2,500pm. It has not been made clear, but it seems likely that from this will be deducted any earnings during the period the scheme is in operation.
  • Income will be calculated by taking the average of income over the last three years. Where the individual has not been self-employed for 3 years, the 2019 tax return will be the basis of the assessment. People who are “very recently self-employed” cannot benefit from the scheme, and are directed to seek help from the welfare system – Universal Credit is to me bade more accessible and advances payments will be available
  • The scheme is only open to anyone with trading profits of up to £50k.  Self-employed people who earn more will not qualify. It is not yet clear how this will be calculated in the case of firms in which more than one self-employed people work together. In an answer to questions, the Chancellor appeared to refer to “people or firms” who earn more than £50,000 as being excluded.
  • The scheme is only open to those who derive most of their income from self-employment; individuals with a second or “side” job cannot benefit
  • The scheme is only those who have submitted a tax return for 2019.  However, those have not yet submitted their tax return by the due date of 31 January 2020, can still submit one for 2019 for a further four weeks from today.
  • HMRC will contact eligible self-employed people directly and ask them to make an application on an online form. There are no pro-active steps which self-employed people can make. Payment will be in one lump sum covering trading shortfall for the whole three months. Those payments unlikely to be paid until the end of June, if for no other reason than the system supporting these measures is only now being set up. Payments backdated to March will be made straight into an identified bank account, confirmed via the application process.
  •  The scheme will remain open for at least three months, to be extended if necessary.

The Government’s package of measures to support the self-employed have been largely welcomed by the GMB, Federation Of Master Builders, Federation Of Small Businesses, Prospect, British Chambers Of Commerce and Association of Independent Professionals and Self-Employed, who referred to the package as “generous” and “a huge relief”. However, the CBI has called for clarity on how and when:

  • Money will reach people, noting that financial planning will be difficult otherwise.

As with the Employee measures announced earlier this week, a great many questions remain unanswered, specifically how the scheme will work.

  • New members of the self-employed workforce won’t be covered by the scheme unless a first return has been filed, and anyone earning more than £50,000 per year will also be excluded. Effectively, the self-employed are having their incomes “topped up” while they continue to work, which is very different from the provision made for furloughed employees.
  • Additionally, self-employed income rarely follows a predictable graph - bad first year of three could bring average down, however we suspect that the 5 million self-employed across the UK (a number which has risen consistently and sharply after the 2008 financial crash) will welcome these measures.  What may take some of the shine off this pledge, however, is the fact that the Chancellor also indicated that tax breaks for the self-employed may shortly come to an end, which is a significant policy shift.


Retail, Leisure & Hospitality - available business rates'  holidays & cash grants due to COVID-19/Coronavirus

  • Businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector with properties being wholly or mainly used as shops, cafes, venues or assembly and leisure with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will be able to take advantage of a Business Rates Holiday for the 2020 to 2021 Tax Year, and any business which received a retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 Tax Year will be rebilled by their Local Authority as soon as possible
  • No action needs to be taken to access the scheme, which will apply to any eligible Business’ next Council Tax Bill in April 2020
  • The Business Rates Calculator will allow you to estimate your Business Rate savings over the coming year
  • Any retail, leisure and hospitality business based in the UK with an eligible property (see above) will be able to claim a cash grant from their Local Authority of up to £25,000 per site – properties with a rateable value below £15,000 will receive £10,000 and between £15,001 and £51,000 will receive £25,000
  • No action needs to be taken to access these grants; local authorities will notify eligible businesses and provide further details on the operation of this scheme shortly

Commercial Property – Rent Payments & Protection From Evictions

A Press Release from the Ministry Of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the Department For Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the HM Treasury dated 23 March 2020 has confirmed that:

  • Any commercial tenant unable to pay rent as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak will be protected from eviction for the next three months from 23 March
  • Many Landlords and Tenants are already, and should be, in touch to discuss voluntary agreements for rent payments
  • Commercial Tenants will remain liable for rent after this three-month period, and the Government is in touch with Landlords as to how they can support them
  • Only applies to eviction/forfeiture for non-payment of rent, any other grounds for forfeiture still apply
  • Landlord can still pursue guarantors, draw down on rent deposit, issue proceedings, or pursue insolvency


Small Business Grant Scheme in light of COVID-19/Coronavirus

  • Any business based in England which occupies property and is entitled to Small Business Rate Relief or Rural Rate Relief will be able to access a one-off grant of £10,000 to meet ongoing business costs
  • No action needs to be taken to access these grants; local authorities will notify eligible businesses and provide further details on the operation of this scheme shortly


VAT & income tax payment deferrals in light of COVID-19/Coronavirus

  • Any VAT payment due over the next 3 months will be able to be deferred until the end of the current tax year
  • Income Tax Payments due for anyone self-employed will be deferred until January 2021
  • Neither of these schemes involve any application process or other conditions – VATR refunds and reclaims will continue to be paid as normal
  • Additionally, any business or employer in financial distress which has an outstanding tax liability may be eligible for further time to pay, assessed on a case by case basis – HMRC’s dedicated helpline number is 0800 0159 559


Company Law – Filing Of Accounts & AGMs

  • From 24 March, companies can apply for a three-month extension to file their accounts with Companies House to allow them to focus on mitigating the impact of COVID-19/Coronavirus
  • Late filing of accounts would usually incur an automatic penalty
  • Extension of the deadline is not automatic, and applications will need to be made with a supporting explanation before any normal filing deadline through the new fast-tracked online system via this link – those citing issues relating to COVID-19/Coronavirus will be prioritised
  • The Government is consulting with representative bodies and other stakeholders to look at any available solutions for companies’ ability to hold AGMs being impacted by COVID-19/Coronavirus – we’ll update when this guidance is available

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

  • Regardless of sector, any business with a turnover of up to £45 million with a viable borrowing proposal (i.e. once which would be viable if the COVID-19 outbreak had not taken place) can apply for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme via one of over 40 Lenders accredited by the British Business Bank, ranging from traditional bans to specialist providers
  • Businesses should approach their own providers first, and eligibility for the scheme is delegated to the accredited lenders – if finance can be offered on normal commercial terms without making use of the scheme - it will be
  • High demand is expected, so applications via a Lender’s website are preferred over the telephone or face-to-face enquiries (capacity for which will be limited given social distancing rules)
  • Businesses should give thought as to whether or not their need is for regular long-term finance rather than emergency financial support
  • Available facilities will include term loans, overdrafts, and asset and invoice finance, dependent upon the lender
  • Any guarantee under this scheme is to the lender and not the business; Borrowers remain 100% liable for repayments
  • Further information is available from British Business Bank


COVID-19: Winding-up and bankruptcy petitions in Insolvency and Companies List largely adjourned until June 2020, new measures to deal with wrongful trading rules (added 30 March 2020)

  • Winding-up and bankruptcy petitions scheduled for hearing are now being largely adjourned to hearing dates in June 2020 onwards.
  • The judiciary has concluded that the general winding-up and bankruptcy list cannot be conducted remotely, and that no satisfactory safety arrangements are available to allow physical hearings.
  • On 23 March 2020, Insolvency and Companies Court (ICC) Judge Mullen adjourned the cases in the general winding-up list (scheduled for hearing from 25 March 2020 onwards). Blocks of 20 winding-up petitions will be heard each week starting on 17 June 2020.
  • On 25 March 2020, the Daily Cause list stated that Chief ICC Judge Briggs had adjourned all cases in the Insolvency and Companies List that day with liberty to restore on an urgent basis only. Just two winding-up applications were to be heard on 25 March 2020 as a result, by telephone hearing and Skype respectively, and no bankruptcy petitions. All bankruptcy petitions scheduled for 25 March 2020 were adjourned generally with liberty to restore after 18 June 2020.
  • The Business Secretary has announced new measures to help businesses "emerge intact the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic". There will be a temporary suspension of the wrongful trading rules, which will apply retrospectively from 1 March. Whilst the detail is yet to be seen, this should mean that when assessing claims against directors for wrongful trading, the core period of COVID-19 will be disregarded. This should give directors of companies continuing to trade some breathing space.
  • This should help to stop a spike in insolvencies, but it does not revive businesses that are not viable and should not be abused by directors seeking to take advantage of these temporary relaxations.


Insurance in light of COVID-19/Coronavirus

  • Any business with cover for pandemics or government-ordered closure should be covered provided that all other policy terms and conditions are met, notably in the Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Sector as a result of the Government’s announcement on 17 March 2020
  • However, coverage differs from policy to policy, and businesses should be checking their terms and contacting providers now to confirm the limits of their cover
  • Unfortunately, most businesses are unlikely to be covered, as standard business interruption policies tend to be dependent upon damage to property and will usually exclude pandemics from their terms


Family law – COVID-19/Coronavirus, childcare arrangements and settlements

Does a lockdown mean that children in separated families can no longer spend time with both parents?

Further guidance in light of the Government’s “stay at home” policy has been by Sir Andrew McFarlane (President of the Family Division) – whilst each family is different, parents are expected to care for children by acting “sensibly and safely” when making decisions which affect them:

    • Where children do not live in the same household, any children under 18 can be moved between homes – this does not mean that they must be moved.
    • Even if one parent thinks that it is safe for contact to go ahead, it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried. In those cases if that parent is “sufficiently concerned” that complying with the child arrangement orders would be against Public Health England or /Public Health Wales advice then they may exercise their parental responsibility and vary the arrangement to one that they consider to be safe.
    • If the aggrieved parent seeks to challenge this decision in the Family Court, the approach that will be taken will be to consider whether the parent acted “reasonably and sensibly” in light with the official advice and rules. The court will however expect that alternative arrangements are made to maintain regular contact, such as face-time apps or telephone calls, to ensure that the spirit of the law is delivered even if the order cannot be adhered to in its entirety.
    • This could give rise to issues, particularly with high conflict separations, where contact may not necessarily be supported by both parents.
    • Settlement discussions, especially where they involve business interests subject to market volatility, may be better delayed or accelerated, dependent upon bargaining positions.


Courts & Tribunals – Civil & Family Cases in light of COVID-19/Coronavirus 

  • HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the Ministry Of Justice are working to minimise risk to their staff and users of their services, meaning that arrangements are being put in place to use telephone, video or other technology to continue as many hearings as possible remotely – any physical hearings will follow social distancing guidance.
  • All new jury trials in the Crown Court have been paused temporarily, and most small claims, fast track and multi-track cases listed for April 2020 will be vacated
  • Any changes to individual hearings will be notified to claimants or defendants by e-mail or telephone.
  • In cases where parties to a case or their advisers are self-isolating in line with NHS advice, are confirmed or suspected of having COVID-19 or have related childcare responsibilities, fees for applications to adjourn civil or family hearings may be waived on provision of medical and other evidence, provided that the hearing could not be conducted remotely – HMCTS also suggests that parties “use the available time to explore the possibility for compromise before agreeing to requesting to adjourn”, and any adjournment should be applied for as soon as possible otherwise.
  • Each court will be producing its own guidance in due court, and we’ll update you when it becomes available.


Wills and Estate Planning

Whilst it is easy to focus on the risks to business during this time, it is important not to overlook your own personal risk.

In these uncertain times, you, your colleagues or family members may be concerned about the future. We have been contacted by an increasing number of clients who want to ensure that their Wills and Estate Planning are up-to-date. We have also been asked to speak with their older relatives to ensure that they have the necessary arrangements in place.

We understand that contemplating making a Will is daunting and quite confusing given the magnitude of information and misinformation available on the Internet. Our Wills and Estate Planning team is here to guide you through the estate planning process. We will provide you with bespoke advice to ensure that your wishes are met.

At BLM we have developed our four-step methodology to help you meet your goals. The first step is to discover. We want to get to know you and take the time to find out as much about you as we can. Next we learn and understand what your priorities are now and in the future. We care about building a partnership with you to ensure that your estate plan is as bespoke as your circumstances.

Only after gathering all of the information and, working with you, we will guide you and help design a bespoke estate plan which will protect your key priorities. Then we will create the bespoke documents putting this plan into place.

At the current time, we are able to offer a 30 minutes free initial ‘virtual’ meeting through Facetime, WhatsApp or Skype for you, your colleagues or your older relatives. Our aim is to provide peace of mind in an uncertain time.

If you are interested in having a conversation then please contact us by emailing to book a convenient time to talk and we can explore how we can work together to help you meet your individual goals.


Whatever challenges our clients and our teams may face over the coming weeks and months, BLM's Commercial Advisory and Private Wealth team will adapt and do our utmost to help you meet them, and although we may not be able to reassure you in person or engage with you as usual, we’re always available by e-mail, telephone or video.  

In the meantime, our thoughts are with you and your families.



Disclaimer: This document does not present a complete or comprehensive statement of the law, nor does it constitute legal advice. It is intended only to highlight issues that may be of interest to customers of BLM. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in any particular case.

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