A set of measures to help businesses affected by the coronavirus (Covid-19) have been declared by the government, but retailers say they are still unclear how to access this support.

Launched on 23 March, steps to help small business owners include:

  • Up to 80% of wage costs covered, backdated to 1 March for as long as needed
  • An interest-free period for 12 months instead of six on business loans
  • Grants to help with business rates costs
  • A deferment of the next VAT quarter payment until the end of the financial year
  • Full access to Universal Credit for self-employed people at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay
  • A deferment of self-assessment payments until January 2021

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme is providing government-backed loans of up to £5m for small and medium businesses with a turnover of up to £45m.

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The government has also pledged to provide a guarantee of 80% on each loan to ensure lenders continue to provide finance.

Aman Uppal, of One Stop Mount Nod in Coventry, said the support is desperately needed and has enabled him to re-employ a former member of staff who had just lost their job as a result of the pandemic.

“It’s a very important and concerning issue for us. As an independent, family-run business, it affects the whole family and local people,” he said.

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“However, we haven’t had information on how to access this support. We’ve heard nothing from the local authority.”

Kamal Thaker, of Stop Shop News in Edgware, Middlesex, added: “My local authority hasn’t updated its website and doesn’t seem to have a clue what’s going on. The support announced by the government has not been translated into action by the local authorities.

“Additionally, my wife can no longer come to the shop because she is in the high-risk category.

“What sort of support is available for her? I also need to look at either shutting the shop or getting someone else in so I can stay at home to prevent passing on the virus.”

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NFRN national president Stuart Reddish welcomed the measures. He said: “For many, the business rates holiday will be the difference between surviving the pandemic and going under. 

“Similarly, the delay in VAT payments will help independent retailers manage cashflow at a time when they are expecting to see unprecedented falls in income.”

ACS chief executive James Lowman said he was pleased local shops had been recognised for the critical role they are playing. “The measures will provide retailers with the support they need to continue providing vital products and services to their customers in this uncertain time,” he said.

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