Coronavirus: There’s help out there for you

[Information updated on 11.06.20 at 9:45am]

We know that many of you are worried about how to keep your businesses afloat and how to do the right thing by your staff. There’s a lot of information for you to absorb and it’s changing day to day so we’ve set out below a brief guide to the financial support that’s available and how you access it.

Before we do, we’d like to ask for your understanding. We are working hard to maintain our service for you. Our phones lines are very busy which means that those customers of ours who most need us right now – those whose phones lines are not working or who are vulnerable – are struggling to get through to us. We’re facing the same challenges as everyone else with some of our own employees unable to work as they are self-isolating or have childcare responsibilities. So we’d really appreciate it if, before calling us, you could do the following:

  • Ask yourself: Do I need to speak to them today;
  • Think: Could I deal with this myself through Customer Zone
  • Review: Is the answer already on the website

If your call is not urgent, please could you email us instead.

Requesting a Covid-19 test

Customers in England and Wales can now call a new three-digit number 119 to request a COVID-19 test if they have symptoms and are unable to access the internet. Calls to 119 are free for customers.

For customers in England or Wales with an internet connection and for all customers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, a test can be requested via https://www.nhs.uk/ask-for-a-coronavirus-test

Covid-19 Affected Customers

Due to the impact of coronavirus, Covid-19 Affected Customers* shall not, for a limited period, in relation to bills or invoices for the supply of water and/or waste water services in England and Wales:

(a) be served disconnection notices for the non-payment of such bills or invoices;
(b) be subject to default interest or  late payment charges for the non-payment of bills or invoices issued from 1 June 2020; and
(c) be subject to enforcement proceedings for the non-payment of invoices.

* Covid-19 Affected Customer means any customer for whom all of the premises we supply with water services in England and Wales are vacant (i.e. not open or with a decrease of 95% or more in its usual activities due to Covid-19) unless we can prove their ability to pay is unaffected by Covid-19.

A copy of our full terms and conditions, can be found at switchingon.com/terms-and-pricing

The above only applies whilst you are affected by Covid-19. Once you have resumed trading and are no longer set to Temporarily Vacant, you will then be eligible to apply for our Covid-19 Repayment Scheme if you’re struggling to pay your bills as a result of Covid-19. Details of the Scheme can be obtained by calling 0161 946 4446.

Please be aware that if you are able to pay your bills on time, you should continue to do so.

What help is available?

There’s a lot of information including on available financial support and how to keep employees safe/how to clean workplaces safely at the following links:

www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses
www.gov.scot/news/gbp-320-million-package-of-support-for-businesses/
www.businesswales.gov.wales

1. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (all UK employers are eligible) – rather than lay your staff off, you can get support to continue paying 80% of an employee’s salary (capped at £2500 a month) if that employee would otherwise have been laid off. You’ll need to:

a. designate those affected employees as “furloughed employees”;

b. tell the affected employees; and

c. tell HMRC about these furloughed employees through a new online portal HMRC is setting up

When deciding whether you can furlough an employee you will still have to comply with employment law.

2. Deferring VAT and income tax payments (all UK businesses are eligible):

a. VAT payments will automatically be deferred from 20 March 2020 to 30 June 2020 for all UK businesses. You do not need to make a VAT payment during this period.

b. For income tax self-assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 will be deferred until 31 January 2021. It will be done automatically. No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.

c. HMRC have also scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals in temporary financial distress as a result of coronavirus which have outstanding tax liabilities.

If you cannot pay your tax bill because of Coronavirus, please call the HMRC Coronavirus helpline on 0800 1015 9559.

3. Reclaiming statutory sick pay (UK based businesses are eligible) – the government will allow SME’s and employers to reclaim SSP paid for sickness absence due to coronavirus – up to 2 weeks per eligible employees for employers with less than 250 employees. Further details of the rebate scheme will be provided shortly once legislation has passed.

4. Business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses (businesses based in England are eligible) – this will be introduced for the 2020 to 2021 tax year and you don’t need to do anything. If you got the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year you will be rebilled by your local authority. This covers properties wholly or mainly used as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues; for assembly and leisure; as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation.

5. Cash grants for retail, hospitality and leisure grant of up to 25k per property – the Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme (businesses based in England are eligible):

a. businesses with a rateable value of less than £15,000 will receive a grant of £10,000;

b. businesses with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £51,000 will receive a grant of £25,000

You don’t need to do anything to get this – your local authority will write to you if you’re eligible for the grant. Guidance for local authorities will be provided shortly.

6. Nursery businesses that pay business rates (businesses based in England are eligible) – a business rates holiday is to be introduced for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. You don’t need to do anything – it will apply to your next council tax bill in April 2020 (your bill may need to be reissued).

7. If your business pays little or no business rates (businesses based in England are eligible) – the government will provide additional Small Business Grant Scheme funding for local authorities to support small businesses that pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBBR), rural rate relief (RRR) and tapered relief. This will give a one-off grant of £10,000 to eligible businesses to help meet their ongoing business costs. You don’t need to do anything – your local authority will write to you if you’re eligible.

8. Top-up to local business grant funds scheme – On 2nd May 2020, the government announced that a new discretionary fund of up to £617 million is being made available to local authorities to accommodate certain small businesses in England previously outside the scope of the business grant funds scheme. This additional fund is aimed at small businesses with ongoing fixed property-related costs.

9. Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (UK based businesses are eligible) – this supports SMEs with access to working capital including loans, overdrafts, invoice finance and asset finance of up to £5 million and for up to 6 years. The government will cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees, so smaller businesses won’t face upfront costs and will get lower initial repayments. The scheme is open for applications – talk to your bank or one of the 40 accredited finance providers: www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils/

All major banks are offering this scheme. If you currently have a loan with monthly repayments you may want to ask for a repayment holiday to aid cash flow.

Following an update on 3rd April 2020, the Chancellor has extended the CBILS so that all viable small businesses affected by COVID-19, and not just those unable to secure regular commercial financing, are now eligible to apply if they need finance to keep operating during this difficult time. The government is also stopping lenders from requesting personal guarantees for loans under £250,000 and making operational changes to speed up lending approvals. The government will continue to cover the first twelve months of interest and fees. For loans over £250,000 personal guarantees are limited to 20% of amounts outstanding after recoveries of other assets and cannot be on principal homes.

10. Bounce Back Loan Scheme – On Monday 27th April 2020 the Chancellor announced that small businesses can benefit from a new fast-track finance scheme providing loans with a 100% government-backed guarantee for lenders.

Under the new Bounce Back Loan scheme, small businesses will be able to borrow between £2,000 and £50,000 and access the cash within days. The government will guarantee 100% of the loan and there won’t be any fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months. Loan terms will be up to 6 years and no repayments will be due during the first 12 months.

The scheme will launch on the 4th May 2020 and will run alongside the existing Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). You cannot apply if you’re already claiming under CBILS.

Further information can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-a-coronavirus-bounce-back-loan

11. Future Fund – On Monday 20th April 2020 the Chancellor announced a new scheme which will issue convertible loans to innovative companies which are facing financing difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Future Fund will provide government loans to innovative UK-based companies ranging from £125,000 to £5 million, subject to at least equal match funding from private investors. These convertible loans may be a suitable option for businesses that rely on equity investment and are unable to access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. The scheme will be delivered in partnership with the British Business Bank.

Further information can be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/future-fund

12. New funding to support dairy farmers through coronavirus – On 6th May 2020, the government announced a new fund which will enable eligible dairy farmers in England to access up to £10,000 each to help them overcome the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Eligible dairy farmers will be entitled to up to £10,000 each, to cover 70% of their lost income during April and May.

13. Business rates revaluation postponed – On 6th May 2020, the government announced that a revaluation of business rates will no longer take place in 2021 to help reduce uncertainty for firms affected by the impacts of coronavirus. The revaluation will now take place in 2022. More information can be found here.

14. YouLend cash advance – our chosen partners, YouLend, can offer you a cash advance from your future card payment transactions to help your business through the next few weeks/months. Cash is available within 1-7 days. We’ll credit your account with 5% of the loan – most of the commission payment we receive from YouLend. Visit shop.switchingon.com to find out more.

Support for the self-employed

1. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Self-employment Income Support Scheme

This new scheme is available to people who are self-employed or a member of a partnership and who have lost income due to coronavirus.

This scheme will pay 80% of your average profits over the past 3 years – tax years 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 (if you are eligible and haven’t submitted returns for 2018-19 you now have 4 weeks’ notice from the date of the announcement (26th March 2020) to file returns by the 23rd April. Ref: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme).

The scheme will pay up to £2,500 per month for three months (this may be extended if needed) but only if your average annual profits are £50k or less. HMRC expects to start making the first payments by the beginning of June 2020 and you will apply using an online form. If you are eligible HMRC will pay the grant straight into your bank account.

2. What can the self-employed get in the meantime?

HMRC has changed the welfare system so people who are self-employed can now access Universal Credit in full. They have also made sure that most people can access the business interruption loans.

HMRC also say that a self-employed person can be entitled to a combination of Universal Credit and new style Employment Support Allowance and Local Housing Allowance and Child Benefits to see them through the next few months.

For more information please go to https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme

Support for charities

On the 8th April 2020 the Chancellor announced a £750 million package of support for frontline charities to ensure they can continue their vital work during the coronavirus outbreak.

As part of this UK-wide package of support, £360 million will be directly allocated by government departments to charities providing key services and supporting vulnerable people during the crisis. In addition to this, £370 million will be allocated to smaller charities – including through a grant to the National Lottery Community Fund for those in England, and through the Barnett formula for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – that will support those organisations at the heart of local communities which are making a big difference during the outbreak to those in need.

The Chancellor also announced that the government will match donations to the National Emergencies Trust as part of the BBC’s Big Night In charity appeal on 23 April, starting with a contribution of at least £20 million. For further information visit:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-the-charity-sector

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-sets-out-extra-750-million-coronavirus-funding-for-frontline-charities

Business Support Finder

The government has launched a new ‘support finder’ tool to help businesses and self-employed people across the UK to quickly and easily determine the financial support available to them during the coronavirus pandemic.

The simple online questionnaire takes minutes to complete and signposts you to relevant government financial support – including loans, grants or other schemes – for which you may be eligible.

The support finder tool can be accessed at https://www.gov.uk/business-coronavirus-support-finder

Unicom coronavirus customer guide

There’s so much information for you to absorb, and it’s changing day to day, that sometimes it can be hard to focus on what the real priorities are. That’s why we created this guide. In it you’ll be able to find out what help is available, how you can access it and most importantly how to prioritise what you need to do to ensure you stay healthy, look after your employees and protect your businesses. You can access the guide here.

Thank you for your continued loyalty. Stay safe.

Chris Earle
Chief Executive Officer

We’ve put together some frequently asked questions which you may find helpful.

1. My business is still trading/My business has temporarily closed. Do I need to let you know?

It’s important that you let us know whether your business is still trading or whether your business has temporarily closed due to coronavirus.

My business is trading
If your business is still trading nothing will change. We will continue to provide you with the services you take from us and bill you for those services accordingly. Simply let us know by texting ‘OCCUPIED’ to 0161 850 3867 or by filling out the form at switchingon.com/vacant.

My business has temporarily closed
If your business has temporarily closed, then we’re here to help. By registering your premises as temporarily vacant, you may be able to reduce some of your costs on your essential utility services. Simply let us know by texting ‘VACANT’ to 0161 850 3867 or by filling out the form at switchingon.com/vacant.

As this is a temporary arrangement, the trading status will revert back to occupied in accordance with the time frames set by the regulators. We’ll let you know nearer the time when this will happen. If your business remains closed after that date, you’ll need to provide evidence of that. If you start trading, you’ll need to let us know, so we can change your property status back to occupied.

2. How do I ensure the drinking water is safe for when I reopen?

As your business closed due to coronavirus, your water supply may have stagnated. Unless steps are taken before the building is reoccupied, there is a risk of adverse drinking water quality and potential risks to health. To ensure that the water is safe to drink, we’ve posted some simple instructions here.

3. My service (telecom/broadband) is down, what can I do?

Many faults can be resolved by carrying out a few simple equipment checks. In the first instance follow our handy troubleshooting guide switchingon.com/telecoms-help.

If the fault persists, then you can report a telecom fault via Customer Zone by visiting switchingon.com/customerzone. Alternatively, for a broadband only fault, you can call us on 0161 946 4444.

4. My business is closing for a while, can I add a call diversion to my landline?

Yes, we can add a call diversion for you. To add this to your telephone line, please click this link and following the on screen instructions: switchingon.com/coronavirus-call-divert

5. Is there anything you can do to help me?

There’s a lot of information available on financial support and how to keep employees safe/how to clean workplaces safely at the following links:

a. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

b. the Scottish Government has recently announced a £320 million package of support for businesses? https://www.gov.scot/news/gbp-320-million-package-of-support-for-businesses/

c. the Welsh Government has set out a package of temporary measures to support businesses including Business Rate Relief and a Business Interruption Loan Scheme? https://businesswales.gov.wales/welsh-government-support-businesses

d. www.nidirect.gov.uk

We can help you too

e. YouLend cash advance – our chosen partners, YouLend, can offer you a cash advance from your future card payment transactions to help your business through the next few weeks/months. Cash is available within 1-7 days. We’ll credit your account with 5% of the loan – most of the commission payment we receive from YouLend. Visit shop.switchingon.com.

Unicom coronavirus customer guide

There’s so much information for you to absorb, and it’s changing day to day, that sometimes it can be hard to focus on what the real priorities are. That’s why we created this guide. In it you’ll be able to find out what help is available, how you can access it and most importantly how to prioritise what you need to do to ensure you stay healthy, look after your employees and protect your businesses. You can access the guide here.

6. I’ve got an engineer booked to fix my fault. Will the appointment still go ahead?

On the appointed date, the engineer will first try to fix your fault by trying to isolate it and correct it on the local network. She/he will then make a test call to you to check whether service has been restored.

  1. If that doesn’t fix it and your fault is deemed critical i.e. you are vulnerable or the fault is deemed to be a risk to health and safety, and the engineer needs to access your premises, they will first need to ask two questions: Has anyone in the premises been diagnosed with Coronavirus, asked to self-isolate, or travelled to a Coronavirus high-risk area or country in the last 14 days?
  2. Is anyone in the premises suffering from flu-like symptoms?

If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then unfortunately the engineer will not be able to enter the premises and a further appointment will be made for four weeks later. Do remember, however, that we can provide you with a call diversion facility to ensure you can continue to receive important calls during this period

7. I need an engineer to come and fix my fault, will I be able to book an appointment?

Yes, but Openreach engineers are prioritising vulnerable customers. If you are in one of the ‘vulnerable’ categories for Coronavirus, do please let us know when you report your fault and we will endeavour to prioritise your fault. Detail on who falls into these categories can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19/guidance-on-shielding-and-protecting-extremely-vulnerable-persons-from-covid-19

You should also be aware that Openreach has told their engineers to avoid entering customer premises.

Currently, an engineer can only enter your premises if not doing so would leave a vulnerable customer with no form of connection, and it’s not possible to provide a connection by any other means.

8. What will happen to my service if Unicom needs to close?

Your services will continue to function as normal, but don’t worry, we’re following the government guidance and our key priorities are to make sure we can continue to support you and look after our employees.

9. My business supports vulnerable people. If I get a fault, what will happen?

There are established procedures to ensure that repairs for welfare cases are treated as a priority. If you need to report a fault, please ensure that you advise us that your business should be classed as a welfare case.

10. I asked for a Smart Meter. Will it be installed?

To ensure the safety of our customers and install engineers during this current unprecedented time, we’ve decided to temporarily pause the installation of new smart meters.  When we can, we’ll be in touch to make arrangements for your installation to take place.

11. How can I ensure my bill is accurate?

The best way to ensure that your bills are accurate is to provide us with regular meter reads. You can do this by logging on to Customer Zone by visiting switchingon.com/customerzone.

12. Will there be any change to your opening hours?

Not at this time. We’re following the government guidance and our key priorities are to make sure we can continue to support you and look after our employees.

13. I’ve got a power cut. What do I do?

If you have an electrical emergency or power outage, you should call 105. For more information please visit switchingon.com/emergencies.

14. I’ve got a gas leak. What do I do?

If you smell gas, think you have a gas leak, or are worried that fumes containing carbon monoxide are escaping from a gas appliance, please call the free Gas Emergency Services line immediately on 0800 111 999.

15. I’ve got a water leak. What do I do?

The wholesaler in your area will continue to provide an emergency response should you have an issue with your supply. If you know their number you should ring them in the first instance. You will find this number on your invoice, in your welcome pack and on your Customer Zone to help you remember in future. However, if you can’t access these, ring us on 0161 946 4444 and we’ll get in touch with them together.

16. My business is ceasing to trade permanently. What should I do?

If you are a sole trader or partnership you will not be required to pay an early termination fee when you cease business if you provide a recently issued letter confirming you have ceased to trade from any of the following: a firm of solicitors/a licensed insolvency practitioner/an accountancy firm, each of which must be registered with their respective regulatory authority. The letter must confirm you have ceased trading in all business capacities in which you were formally engaged.

17. How can I best contact you if I need help?

Our phone lines are very busy which means that those customers of our who most need us right now – those whose phone lines are not working or who are vulnerable – are struggling to get through to us. We’re facing the same challenges as everyone else with some of our own employees unable to work as they are self-isolating or have childcare responsibilities. So we’d really appreciate it if, before calling us, you could do the following:

• Ask yourself: Do I need to speak to them today
• Think: Could I deal with this myself through Customer Zone
• Review: Is the answer already on the website

If your call is not urgent, please email us on info@switchingon.com

Don’t forget, there are a range of self-service options available to you online through your exclusive Customer Zone where you can view, download and print your invoices, submit meter reads, find information on troubleshooting and report faults by visiting switchingon.com/customerzone.

18. Can I have a payment holiday whilst my business is temporarily closed?

The ability to support customers through this difficult time is a priority. On this basis we are currently following government guidelines.

Please refer to the government budget fact sheets and links provided which provides information about financial support for people affected by COVID-19 personally and the types of financial support available for businesses experiencing increased costs and/or financial disruption.

The government guidance highlights financial provision in relation to business rates, a new COVID-19 business interruption loan scheme and provides the contact details for HMRC’s new dedicated COVID-19 helpline.

a. the UK Government has introduced a package of measures to support businesses during the outbreak including Business Rate Relief and £300 billion of bank loans www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

b. the UK Government has introduced help for people who are self-employed in the form of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Self-employment Income Support Scheme https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme).

c. the Scottish Government has recently announced a £320 million package of support for businesses www.gov.scot/news/gbp-320-million-package-of-support-for-businesses/

d. the Welsh Government has set out a package of temporary measures to support businesses including Business Rate Relief and a Business Interruption Loan Scheme www.businesswales.gov.wales/welsh-government-support-businesses

e. the Northern Irish Government has issued some advice and guidance for business and employers which includes managing business operations, help with tax and assistance with business rates. www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-business-and-employers

19. I’m currently in a payment arrangement with you. Will this continue?

Yes, as long as you continue to make payment in line with that arrangement. If you need to change that arrangement,  our Collections team will be happy to discuss this further with you.

20. I’m struggling to pay my bills. What can you do to help me?

Our Collections team will be happy to discuss payment options with you. Did you also know that the government has launched several financial initiatives that you can explore:

a. the UK Government has introduced a package of measures to support businesses during the outbreak including Business Rate Relief and £300 billion of bank loans https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

b. the UK Government has introduced help for people who are self-employed in the form of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Self-employment Income Support Scheme https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme).

c. the Scottish Government has recently announced a £320 million package of support for businesses https://www.gov.scot/news/gbp-320-million-package-of-support-for-businesses/

d. the Welsh Government has set out a package of temporary measures to support businesses including Business Rate Relief and a Business Interruption Loan Scheme https://businesswales.gov.wales/welsh-government-support-businesses

e. the Northern Irish Government has issued some advice and guidance for business and employers which includes managing business operations, help with tax and assistance with business rates. www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-business-and-employers

If you still require help, please contact a free business debt service:

www.businessdebtline.org
https://www.stepchange.org/debt-info/debt-and-coronavirus.aspx

21. I need to give a meter read. How do I do this?

To ensure that your bills are accurate, we’d recommend taking a meter read on a monthly basis. The easiest way to submit a meter read is through your Customer Zone. Alternatively, please email meter.read@switchingon.com, quoting the read followed by E: Electricity, G: Gas, W: Water, and your account number.

22. Will my meter still be read?

Meter readers are unable to visit your premises during this period. To ensure that your bills are accurate, please submit your meter readings if safe to do so using your Customer Zone or by emailing meter.read@switchingon.com, quoting the read followed by E: Electricity, G: Gas, W: Water, and your account number.

23. I’m self-employed. What help available for me?

The government has announced a package which will be available from June specifically for people who are self-employed, called Coronavirus (COVID-19) Self-employment Income Support Scheme. HMRC will directly be contacting individuals who are eligible for the scheme and you will be invited to apply online. More information is available to view at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme.

24. My business is critical, what can you do to help me?

We understand that some of our customers either work in the critical sectors listed by the government or supply services to third parties in those critical sectors. We can help you in a number of ways, including offering assistance with call diversion or providing additional support when you need it. Simply click here for more information.

25. I’m vulnerable and need help

That’s no problem. We’re prioritising the needs of our vulnerable customers and those who have lost service. If you, or someone on your behalf, needs to contact us, and you feel comfortable with telling us, simply let our advisor know that you’re a vulnerable customer and we’ll flag your account accordingly. We’ve put together our Treating Vulnerable Customers Fairly policy, which can be viewed here. The policy tells you some of the things we can do to help you during this time, including some of the products and services which are available to you.

26. Do I need to pay for calls to 101?

No. From 1st April 2020, all non-emergency calls to 101 are free of charge. This is to enable callers to contact the police for non-emergency calls and to alleviate pressure on 999 services.

27. How are you looking after our data while your employees are working from home?

We take the security of your data very seriously. Our IT systems are set up so that we can apply the same security measures to your personal information when our employees are working remotely as when they’re in the office. Our employees are also aware of how important it is to keep your data secure.