Coronavirus Business Support Update
During the current crisis we thought it may be helpful to update members and dealers on some of the issues thrown up by Government guidance and the interpretation of this guidance. Regular industry video conferences are helping to highlight the way in which some of our members and suppliers and manufacturers are operating during this crisis.
Where to find guidance
We’ve compiled Government and employment law advice and guidance for businesses and employers regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. This is available in a Coronavirus Hub on the BAGMA website.
Can machinery dealers remain open?
Under the issued Government guidance it is believed that most machinery dealers, garden, ground care and agricultural machinery dealers should be able to stay open and provide a limited service, repair and spare parts support to their local community. The extract below from the list of business that are allowed to stay open is believed to cover this.
- Hardware shops and equipment, plant and tool hire
- Agricultural supplies shops
Businesses have to make their own decisions in respect of how necessary it is for them to remain open and follow all the guidelines of social distancing and their duty of care to their staff.
We understand that those businesses that are open are offering alternative services (like click and collect) for parts and equipment collection, operating a closed-to-the-public policy to maintain social distancing. Those that have online businesses are carrying on with service and are reporting high demand.
A fairly new phrase to the UK but furloughing is another word for lay-off. The Government have stated that where a company needs to furlough or lay-off staff because there is no work for them to do, the Government will pay 80% of that person’s wages. There are lots of details to Furloughing and they should be studied carefully to understand the rules. This is also referred to as a Job Retention Scheme.
Be aware that you need good reason to furlough a member of staff, that to qualify the furlough needs to be for a minimum of three weeks. You need to apply to the government scheme for the support which will get paid to the employer for anyone on a PAYE scheme.
Whilst on furlough staff cannot do any work for the company but can-do voluntary work for an unrelated businesses or organisation.
A furloughed member of staff can return to work after the first three-week period, be paid, and then furloughed again for blocks of a minimum of three weeks.
When furloughed a member of staff is still employed by the company who still has a duty of care to the individual under normal HR and health and safety rules.
Important Updates on Furloughing Staff: Updated 16.04.2020
On 15 April 2020, the government issued a Statutory Direction setting out requirements for the scheme. This takes precedence over the government guidance, which was also updated on 15 April.
There are some important points to note. The first is the requirement for there to be a written agreement from both employer and employee to be furloughed. This contrasts with the current online guidance, which simply says “To be eligible for the grant employers must confirm in writing to their employee confirming that they have been furloughed. A record of this communication must be kept for five years.”
Therefore, just to be sure, if you haven’t already got written agreement to be furloughed from your employees, you should seek this now. We have put together a template email that you could use – please ensure that all relevant information is inserted into this before sending it to affected employees. Download template email here.
The second point is likely to be even more problematic. A lot of employers have placed employees on furlough and not continued to pay them until such time as HMRC paid the grant under the scheme, which would then be passed on to employees. There are obvious reasons why an employer may do this in the current circumstances and there was, and is, nothing in the online guidance to suggest this is not allowed. However, the new Direction seems to suggest that you can only recover monies from HMRC that have already been paid – effectively the grant amounts to a reimbursement of monies paid. The requirements appear to be as follows:
- If between 1 March and 18 April there has been a period in which an employee has been furloughed and you have not paid the employee what they would get under the scheme, you will have to make up the pay they would be due under the scheme for that period BEFORE you make a claim.
- For any period after 18 April, if you have not paid an employee what they would get under the scheme while they are furloughed, you will not be able to make that pay up later and, therefore, you cannot be reimbursed by HMRC for that period. Effectively, we think this means that if you continue to not pay employees 80% of their salary (subject to the £2,500 p/m cap), you will not get money from HMRC.
This will obviously be very difficult for some, if not most, employers to meet given the circumstances. It’s important to also note that this Direction can be changed at any time by the government.
Working from Home
Businesses have been encouraged to let staff work from home where they are able to and not have to travel to and from work. If businesses have done this, they need to be aware that they still have a duty of care of to employees as if they are working in the business and should check that working habits are in line with health and safety recommendations and HR rules.
- Reviewing health and safety arrangements for any obstacles to remote working and remove these
- Invest in technology to facilitate remote working (tools for video conferencing etc)
- Trial remote working before it’s necessary
- Where remote working isn’t possible, think about pay/continuity etc
Staff who cannot do their normal job from home
Where staff cannot do their job from home, they are allowed to travel to work to carry out their normal work provided their employer is allowed to be open. There are a number of guidelines associated with this both for the employer and employee. A couple of links below should be read to provide some guidance on this.
It may be advisable to provide staff who have to travel to do their job with a letter on a company letter head explaining why they need to be ‘out and about’ in case they are stopped by the police.
Financial Support for Businesses
In response to the outbreak of coronavirus Covid-19, the Government has put together an emergency package of financial support for independent retailers. Click here then click on Financial support. This lists various areas of Government support for businesses that may be of help to the dealer network. In some cases, you may need to contact your local authority to find out if your business is eligible for support.
Corona Virus videos from BAGMA members and partners
Ripon Farm Services have produced a customer support video for Corona Virus and wanted to share it with industry to help both customers and dealers during the present crisis.
ISEKI share their latest plan for keeping in touch with our customers….Virtual Demonstrations. They can’t come to you so they’ve put together this demo video instead.
Most information relating to the current crisis can be found on the internet. Some of the guidance is a matter of interpretation where a commonsense approach should be taken to what can and cannot be done. BAGMA keeps in touch with other industry organisations and companies in order to provide a balanced approach to the interpretation of existing guidance.
The Government does provide updates to guidance and some clarification where necessary, but businesses need to make their own decisions as to what they do during this crisis in relation to their particular circumstances. They also need to protect their staff and their customers under Social Distancing guidelines.
If you have a question or concern contact Keith Christian, Director of BAGMA at email@example.com.