Government support available to businesses in the UK and ROI amid COVID-19

With constant news updates and drastic measures introduced to protect the general public, what support is available to small businesses impacted by COVID-19? Read our guide to the current support available across the UK and Ireland as well as important resources for businesses struggling.

12 min read

AirPOS has been committed to helping the development and growth of small businesses for over a decade. In the following article we wanted to highlight what help is available for small businesses in the UK, Northern Ireland and Ireland so that they can find a solution to any pressing financial issues and hopefully relieve any stress.

Latest Update- Monday 8th June

Northern Ireland announces opening of small shops

On Monday 8th June the Northern Ireland Executive announced that on Friday 12th June "all non essential retailers" will be permitted to reopen. This comes after a further fall in the Northern Ireland R rate and the reopening of larger stores earlier on Monday. First Minister Arlene Foster has been under pressure to make changes within Northern Ireland following the acceleration of the movement in the Republic of Ireland retail sector. The executive belives that this announcement is a "major step forward and that it is time to accelerate the pace of recovery". However the Executive has urged retailers to be thorough with their safety measures and adhere to the necessary guidelines, only opening if they can do so safely.

For more information click here

Update- Friday 29th May

Dates given across UK for the reopening of non-essential stores

It was announced earlier in the week that the UK Government had developed a plan for the reopening of non-essential stores in an attempt to restart the economy. Scotland and Wales have yet to give specific dates for when they hope to ease any measures however their have been formal announcements made by the respective govenments in Northern Ireland and England

Boris Johnson confirmed on May 25th that all non-essential stores can reopen on the 15th June as long as the Government's 5 tests are met. Open air markets and Car showrooms are able to open earlier, on the 1st June however, as the Johnson has highlighted that the "risk of transmission of the virus is lower in outdoor and more open spaces". In terms of retailers, they are only permitted to open again on the 15th once they are “COVID-19 secure and can show customers will be kept safe” in line with the current Health and Safety legislation. As well as this they are expected to have completed a risk assesment with a representive of their trade union and have implemented safety measures to protect their staff and customers from risk of infection. For more information click here.

Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Executive announced on Thursday 28th that they aim to begin reopening non-essential stores from the 8th June. This does not apply to all retailers however and still lacks clarity. Businesses with low footfall such as electrical stores, mobile phone shops and furniture stores will be permitted to open as long as they have implemented the appropriate saftey measures. Dog Groomers, agricultural traders and car showrooms are also amongst those who will be able to open come the 8th June. This is all dependent however that the scientific evidence continues to indicate that the Virus is being suppressed. These changes will only come into effect if the Northern Irish R rate stays below one. To read more click here

For a detailed guide on how to ensure your business is prepared to reopen once allowed, check out this piece on the AirPOS Community page.

Update- Thursday 21st May

Republic of Ireland Restart Grant

The Republic of Ireland have established their €250 million restart Grant designed to ease the costs of reopening for micro and small businesses. These grants will give direct aid of between €2,000 and €10,000 to firms, with the payment based on commercial rates bill from 2019.

The requirements to qualify for this grant are,

  • Having a turnover of less than €5 million
  • Having 50 employees or less
  • Covid 19 closures/impact having resulted in at least a 25 per cent reduction in turnover

Heather Humphreys, the minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, stated that "Small businesses, whether it the local hairdresser, café or clothes shop, are absolutely vital to the social fabric of our towns and villages throughout the country. These businesses have made huge sacrifices to protect their employees and customers during COVID-19 and we want to help them get back up and running so that they can return to viability and contribute to the national economic recovery."

The grant applications will be open from 22nd May 2020

Update- Thursday 14th May

Uk and Ireland roadmaps

England and wales

It was decided to begin reopening society and restarting the economy on Wednesday 13th. Entering into the first phase, their has been very slight changes to lockdown measures, allowing those who can not work from home to return to work whilst maintaining social distancing measures. Examples of such jobs are those working within construction and is only possible if safety measures are up to the correct standard.

Residents in England and Wales can now leave their homes for unlimited time to exercise/ for leisure as long as they remain distant from other individuals.

When possible avoid public transport, however, if this is unavoidable, passengers are advised to wear face coverings and keep distant from others.

For further information on England click here and for further information on wales click here

Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland has released their phased plan to ease restrictions which deviates from that of England and Wales. The plan created outlines the abilitiy for residents of Northern Ireland to begin leaving their homes for unlimited time and to meet in small groups outdoors.

The plan also highlights in detail the timeline for businesses to open based on their industry and their ability to social distance.

A date on which Northern Ireland will enter phase one has not yet been released and is subject to change depending on Covid19 figures in the region.

You can read Northern Ireland's full roadmap here

Scotland similar to Northern Ireland has decided to follow a regional plan delaying any easing of restrictions. Nicola Sturgeon has urged the Scottish population to continue to follow the advice to stay at home and is set to announce her phased easing plan some time next week.

You can read more on Scotland's plan here

Republic of Ireland

The South of Ireland has released its roadmap on how they will begin to reopen its economy and begin easing their lockdown measures. The move into phase one is planned for 18th May and will be gradual. The detailed roadmap has been made available online and importanly highlights the specific dates the Irish public can expect to to see measures introduced. You can view the roadmap here

Extension to UK Furlough scheme

There have been UK wide changes made to the Furlough scheme. Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced on 12th May that the UK Job retention scheme would be extended for a further four months with works continuing to receive 80% of their salary.

The largest change, however, will come in August with workers having the opportunity to return to work part-time rather than the current all-in or all-out attitude.

To read further on the extended Uk Furlough scheme click here

PWC retail report

PWC has released its Covid19 retail report, highlighting the key figures affecting the industry as well as advice on how to seize any opportunities despite this incredibly challenging time.

The professional services giant has accented how report helps to give business owners guidance, on how to adapt the way they sell and also how they market their business seeing consumer spending will have been massively disrupted.

For their strategies on how to succeed in this competitive environment, as well as their predictions for the retail sector more broadly visit their site here

Northern Ireland Hardship Fund

Northern Ireland have introduced a new hardship fund for those businesses who did not qualify for the £10,000 small business grant and the £25,000 Retail, Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure scheme. This scheme aims to assist businesses in Northern Ireland with less than ten employees that require financial support due to the impact of COVID-19, including charities and social enterprises.

Starling Bank bounceback loans

Online bank Starling has announced their involvement in the business Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) to those businesses and sole traders using their services as their main account.

For more information regarding Starling bank and their involvement in the scheme visit their site here

Update- Friday 1st May

Enterprise Ireland Online retail scheme

Enterprise Ireland has teamed with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) to help small businesses across Ireland improve their digital presence during COVID19. The purpose of this fund with a total worth of €2m is to,

Enable Irish-owned retailers to enhance their digital capability and to develop a more competitive online offer, that will enable an increase in their customer base and build a more resilient business in the domestic and global marketplace both online and offline.

DBEI expects the grant to be used to help businesses create a sophisicated online presence, not limited to transactional purposes, but also for research and consultacy.

The applications for the scheme close Wednesday 27th May 2020 at 3pm with successful applicants being awarded funding to support a maximum of 80% of the project costs.

For more information about the scheme, its requirements and limitations click here

Northern Ireland Buisness Grant

The Northern Ireland executive announced on the 30th April 2020 that a £10,000 Small Business Grant for rental properties and Total NAV of £1,590 or below would be made available.

Click here for information regarding the business rental grant or the small business rate relief scheme.

Update- 28th April 2020

Micro business bounce back loan

As of 27th April the Uk govenement have announced a 12-month interest-free microbusiness Bounce Back Loans scheme with £50,000 limit and 100% guarantee. This loan aims to bridge the gap facing small businesses and enable them to tackle their finances during the Covid19 Pandemic.

The key points of this loan;

  • Businesses will be able to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 and access the cash within days
  • Loans will be interest free for the first 12 months, and businesses can apply online through a short and simple form

The applications for the bounceback loan will be open online from 4th May and cash will be delivered to successful applicants within 24 hours.

For more information regarding the bounceback loan and its requirements click here.

Update - 21st April 2020

Further Changes to the UK furlough rules

Previously businesses seeking to furlough staff had only been able to add staff to the scheme who had been on their PAYE register prior to February 28th 2020. However the UK government announced a change to this rule instead changing the start date for staff who could be furloughed to March 19th 2020. While this is a welcome change the pertinent date is actually the first RTI filing for the staff member (i.e the first time they were added to payroll) which effectively still rules out all staff who are paid monthly who started in the montbh of March 2020. This looks like an oversight on behalf of the government.

As of April 19st the furlough scheme has been extended until the end of June 2020.

Xero release a furlough tool

Our partners at Xero have quickly developed and released a tool to allow businesses to easily add furloughed staff to their RTI filings and PAYE register. A great help for both businesses wanting to file themselves but also those using accountants to do this on their behalf this tool will make it simple to make claims hopefully saving businesses using Xero much needed time and money in this critical period. More info on the Xero furlough tool is here

Save Our Startups

The campaign was a success and the goverment have announced support for startup businesses via their Future Fund. Thanks to everyone who signed the petiton.

How is the UK government supporting small businesses during COVID-19

Rishi Sunak, chancellor of the exchequer announced on 17th March that the government, recognising the severity of the situation, were making available £330 billion in backed loans in an attempt to keep the economy afloat and stop many businesses from going bankrupt. The newly appointed chancellor stated that,

“Any business who needs access to cash to pay their rent, their salaries, suppliers, or purchase stock, will be able to access a government-backed loan or credit on attractive terms”

This will come in the form of cash grants, business tax cuts and a 3 month mortgage holiday.

In addition to this, there will be grants available to 700,000 of the UK’s smallest businesses, worth a total of £2.2billion to ensure local economies keep growing.

In terms of smaller businesses local authorities will be able to deliver a £10,000 cash grant to these business owners. These will be available come the beginning of April. Businesses with over £15,000 in NAV on their rates will be able to avail of a grant of £25,ooo if they are in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors although there has been delays in the paying of this grant in many cases.

Sick pay

The government has brought forward that small to medium sized businesses may be entitled to reclaim the costs of Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for sickness absence due to COVID-19. This will cover the recommended two week isolation period for those infected, or at risk due to the virus.
Importantly a dedicated helpline has been set up to help small businesses and those who are self-employed who are experiencing financial distress. Guidance can be given regarding outstanding tax liabilities also supported with tax affairs.


How is the NI Government supporting small businesses during COVID-19

Northern Ireland has an economy built on its small to medium-sized retailers and therefore it is of the utmost importance that the executive takes drastic measures to support these businesses. It has been recently announced that around £370 million will be provided to those businesses in Northern Ireland who are most vulnerable. Deputy first minister , Michelle O’Neill announced the launch of two seperate grants to protect business owners at all levels

For small businesses

“Small businesses with a net asset value up to £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000.”

For medium-sized businesses

“A grant of £25,000 will go to larger, medium-sized firms in the retail, tourism and hospitality sectors.
Qualifying businesses for the £25,000 grant must have a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000.”

As well as this the executive of Northern Ireland has already committed to providing a 3 month holiday to businesses paying rates and are currently exploring the possibility of support for rent. Unfortunately it appears that the Rates Reval 2020 will go ahead despite the COVID-19 crisis with many small businesses seeing large increases in their rates as a result.

The deputy first minister has stated that she will be “bringing forward many new announcements” throughout the next several days, therefore, its imperative that businesses stay informed through credible news channels at this time.


How is the Irish Government supporting small businesses during COVID-19

The government in the Republic of Ireland have shown their strength in their reactive response to COVID-19. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation Heather Humphreys, announced a comprehensive support package for Irish businesses affected by the Coronavirus with loans of up to €1.5 million at reduced rates.

The overall package includes a €200m Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland working capital scheme for those businesses that have been significantly impacted by the virus. A further €200m package will be made available including a rescue and restructuring scheme through Enterprise Ireland for “vulnerable, but viable, firms that need to restructure or transform their business”.

Similar to the UK the banks within the Republic of Ireland have confirmed they will offer a three month payment break to take financial pressure off citizens during this time of uncertainty.

Sole traders and small businesses

Significantly the ROI government has developed a specific plan for sole traders and small companies with only up to 9 employees. These vulnerable businesses will see the maximum available amount for immediate loans increase by 50% from €25,000 to €50,000.

The government has also provided financial support to organisations who can provide businesses with guidance and support through this time whether to conduct financial reviews or consultancy support.

Sick pay

Many businesses are facing the struggle of sick pay. The World Health organisation has recommended that if you are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or a member of your household has that you must self isolate for 7-14 days. Mass closures and sick leave has left many businesses in a state of turmoil. The ROI Government has introduced emergency legislation in the Dáil to amend the rules on sick pay, which will see Illness Benefit rise from €203 per week to €305. Not only will this take the pressure off employers but also prevent further spread where workers are afraid to self isolate on financial grounds.


Further support

The Coronavirus has shaken the world to it’s core and with governments scrambling to create strategies to ensure their citizens are protected yet also protect financial interests. This is obviously a stressful time for business owners which is why we have linked several different informational articles for further reading. You will find a range of information from both the UK and Irish government and we hope you will be able to find a solution for your business.

In this time we must also remember to protect ourselves and those around us as well as our businesses.

Government Updates

For a full list of government updates, make sure to check the links below regularly from the government websites.


Northern Ireland