Omicron Variant - Support Package Announced

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Daniel McAllister | 22nd December 2021

Omicron Variant - Support Package Announced
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced details of the support package of £1bn including grants for the hard hit sectors and refunds of SSP following the latest outbreak of the omicron variant of Covid.
 
Following a cabinet meeting held on Monday, the decision was taken to introduce no further restrictions in England although this is being kept under constant review. Prime Minister, Boris Johnson said: ‘With the surge in Omicron cases, people are rightly exercising more caution as they go about their lives, which is impacting our hospitality, leisure and cultural sectors at what is typically the busiest time of the year. That’s why we’re taking immediate action to help with an extra £1bn in grants to these industries and reintroducing our statutory sick pay rebate scheme. I urge people across the country to please get boosted now to secure vital protection for yourselves, your loved ones and your communities.’
Chancellor's announcements
 
Grants
Hospitality has been severely hit due to people being cautious about the new variant, resulting in a fall in trade of up to 60%. Businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England will now be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises. Around 200,000 businesses should qualify for this support, which will once again be administered by local authorities and be available in the coming weeks. This support is equivalent to the monthly cash grants provided whilst businesses were forced to close earlier this year, except that this time businesses can continue to trade (unless restrictions are changed further). In addition over £100m of discretionary funding will be made available for local authorities to support other affected businesses.
 
SSP Rebate Scheme (SSPRS)
Government will also refund to small and medium-sized employers the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences due to increasing numbers of employees being forced to be off work due to Covid
The SSPRS will help employers with fewer than 250 employees by reimbursing them for the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences, for up to two weeks per employee. Businesses will be eligible for the scheme from 21 December and they will be able to make claims retrospectively from mid-January.
 
Culture Recovery Fund
Following the forced closure of numerous theatres as cast and crew are hit by Covid, further funding of £30m will be provided through the Culture Recovery Fund, enabling cultural organisations in England such as theatres, museums and orchestras to apply for support during the winter.
 
Time to pay
The government also said that HMRC is ready to support businesses impacted by the pandemic through its Time to Pay arrangement, and has asked them to offer businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in particular the option of a short delay, and payment in instalments, on a case by case basis, as part of this.
 
Reaction
Danny McAllister, Business Services Director at Simpson Wood said: ‘Whilst better than nothing, the blanket £6,000 grant will be less than an evenings takings for many restaurants at this time of year and will not replace the lost income from people cancelling events and parties pre-Christmas. With no furlough scheme remaining many employers will face the stark choice of cuts to hours or jobs. Employees in this sector will suffer reduced incomes due to both this and the loss of tips at the busiest time of year.'
'Whilst the SSP rebate scheme is welcome, many employers will pay staff in full rather than at SSP rates to ensure they isolate where necessary which is an extra cost they will have to bear.'
'The Culture Recovery Fund will assist theatres etc but it will need to ensure it gets through to not just employees but freelance crew, musicians etc whose incomes have disappeared due to closures.'
'It would also have been better for time to pay to be an automatic right for those in these sectors rather than having to be applied for on a case by case basis.’
 
Future changes
There appears to be a widespread acceptance that some further restrictions will be introduced after Christmas, and we await the details of those along with additional support measures which may be provided. As always we will keep you informed of any changes as we become aware of them. 
As always please do not hesitate to contact us if you require any further assistance. 
Our previous updates can be found here
All Government guidance is available here