Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Contents

Debt, debt recovery and coronavirus

In this section you'll find information and updates related to coronavirus that are relevant to the law on debt and debt recovery.

The UK's response to coronavirus is changing regularly and often very quickly. While we'll continue to make every effort to keep this page up to date, there may be short periods where what you read here is not the latest information available. Where possible we've tried to provide links to official sources, so you can check the current situation.

Support for struggling businesses

More support is being provided by the UK government to businesses and self-employed individuals. We've listed some of this below:

Financial help during periods of restrictions or lockdown

National lockdown and tier restrictions grants

England

The following financial help is available through your local council:

1. Grants available to business-rates-paying businesses that are impacted due to local Tier 2 – 4 restrictions:

2. Grants available to business-rates-paying businesses that are impacted due to national lockdowns:

When there is a national lockdown, affected businesses are supported by the following grants instead of those mentioned above:

3. Grants available to businesses that don't pay business rates and are impacted due to COVID-19:

The Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) supports these businesses regardless of whether they had to close or not. Local councils are free to decide on both the grant size and the eligibility criteria.

Northern Ireland: Localised Restrictions Support Scheme

This additional financial support is available to certain businesses that have been required to limit their trading or close as a direct result of the restrictions imposed by the Health Regulations.

There are 3 levels of support available based on the total net value of the property from where the business is operating.

Scotland: Strategic Framework Business Fund

This fund is aimed at financially supporting businesses in Scotland that have been required to close by law or to significantly alter operations as a result of coronavirus restrictions. Grants are paid every 4 weeks in arrears for as long as restrictions last. You can read more about what's available and the eligibility criteria here.

Wales: Restrictions Business Fund

This fund is aimed at supporting businesses in Wales that have been affected by the new restrictions and is mainly intended for the hospitality and tourism sector, along with those in their supply chain.

More funding for this sector is available through Sector Specific Support.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

This financial support scheme has been extended. See our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Employment section for more on this.

Job Support Scheme

This scheme has been postponed following the extension of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. See our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Employment section for more on this.

Help for tenants who can't pay rent

Temporary measures have been put in place to protect commercial and residential tenants who are unable to keep up with rent payments. See our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Property section for more on this.

VAT holiday

UK VAT-registered business can defer VAT payments that were due between 20 March and 30 June 2020 (other than for VAT MOSS or import VAT).

You don't have to inform HMRC if you defer payment and no interest or penalties will be charged. If you defer, those payments will become due on or before 31 March 2021. However, if you can't pay in full by then, you can make 11 smaller, interest-free payments during the 2021-22 financial year. You will need to opt in to this scheme, which will then extend the time you have for full payment of the VAT until the end of March 2022. If you know or think you won't be able to pay your income tax or VAT even having deferred, contact HMRC as soon as possible as they do have support available through their Time To Pay (TTP) service.

Reduced VAT

There's a temporary VAT rate reduction to 5% for businesses in the hospitality and tourism sector during the period 15 July 2020 to 31 March 2021.

Business rates support

This differs depending on where you are. Rate reductions should be automatically applied by the local authority covering your area.

England

Certain businesses can benefit from a business rates holiday for the 2020-2021 tax year. Currently, this means those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, and nurseries on Ofsted's Early Years Register.

The rates relief available for 2020-2021 is run by local authorities with government financial backing. They will use their discretionary powers to grant relief in line with eligibility criteria set out in the Government guidance. You can check in this guidance to see if your business property is eligible for rates relief.

You can estimate the business rate charge using the business rates calculator.

Wales

Businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will receive 100% business rates relief for the financial year 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021, if their property has a rateable value of £500,000 or less. See their guide for more.

Scotland

Businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will receive 100% business rates relief for the financial year 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021 (even if they have temporarily closed).

Rates relief is also available for businesses providing services to Scottish airports.

Other businesses will get a deduction of 1.6% from their business rates, which will be applied by their local council. See mygov.scot for more.

Northern Ireland

Businesses in the hospitality, tourism and leisure sectors will not have to pay rates for the financial year ending 31 March 2021. This will also apply to most of the retail sector, excluding certain supermarkets and off-licences.

For other businesses, a 4-month rates holiday applies for April, May, June and July (excludes public sector and utility companies). See nibusinessinfo.co.uk for more.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

This scheme, which is open until 31 March 2021, is available to all UK small businesses. It is 80% backed by the government, who will also pay the interest and fees for the first 12 months of the loan.

If you make use of this facility for an amount below £250,000, you will not be required to give any personal guarantee for repayment of the outstanding loan. Above £250,000 you may be required to do so, but some safeguards are built in: e.g. your main home can't be used as support for a personal guarantee.

To qualify you must:

  • need the loan to support your UK trading activities, having been adversely affected by coronavirus (you will need to self-certify this fact);
  • have an annual turnover no higher than £45 million;
  • have a borrowing proposal a lender would consider viable, were it not for the current pandemic; and (although having sufficient security is no longer a bar to making use of this scheme)
  • want to borrow no more than £5 million.

Depending on the type of finance you're taking under this scheme, the length of the loan will be between 3 and 6 years.

There are over 100 approved lenders for the scheme. For more information, see the British Business Bank and GOV.UK.

Bounce Back Loans Scheme

This loan scheme for small businesses is open to applications until 31 March 2021. These loans are 100% backed by the government, making it possible for small businesses to access them quickly and more easily than some of the other loan schemes.

Businesses can borrow between £2,000 and up to 25% of their turnover to a maximum of £50,000. The loans are interest free for the first 12 months and no repayments are due during this time.

Although the Bounce Back Loan is for a 6-year term, this can be extended to 10 years under the Pay as You Grow flexible repayment scheme. Under this scheme, interest-only repayment periods and repayment holidays are also available.

For more information, see GOV.UK and the British Business Bank.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) Grant Extension

This is a UK-wide scheme to provide support for the self-employed (including members of partnerships). The original SEISS was split into 2 grants. This has now been extended to offer 2 further grants that will last for 6 months from November 2020 until April 2021. The grants will be paid in 2 lump sums, which need not be repaid, each covering a period of 3 months.

Qualifying for the scheme

To qualify you must declare that:

  • you're currently actively trading and that you intend to continue to do so; and
  • in the qualifying period of the extended grant you are claiming, you were impacted by COVID-19 in a way that will significantly reduce your profits. The qualifying period for the third grant is between 1 November and 29 January 2021.

You must also have been eligible for the original 2 SEISS grants (although you don't need to have actually claimed either of them). This means you must:

  • be a self-employed individual or a member of a partnership;
  • have submitted your self-assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-2019;
  • have traded in the tax year 2019-2020; and
  • have trading profits of £50,000 or less, which are more than half of your total income for either the tax year 2018-2019 or the average of the tax years from 2016-2017 to 2018-2019 (inclusive).

Different criteria apply if you have loans covered by the loan charge or you're a farmer claiming farmers' averaging relief.

How much can you claim

The window for claiming the 3rd grant has now closed. It was paid in a single taxable instalment, covering 80% of average monthly trading profits for the period from 1 November 2020 until 31 January 2021 (capped at £7,500).

The 4th grant will also be paid in a single taxable instalment to cover the 3-month period from 1 February 2021 to 30 April 2021. The government will announce in March how much you can claim.

More information

See the main business support pages for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

There is also a Coronavirus business support finder that you can use to find help that's available to you from all the UK jurisdictions.

Temporary insolvency law changes

On 28 March 2020, the UK government announced that it would amend insolvency law to give companies breathing space and keep trading while they explore options for rescue.

On 26 June, the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act 2020 came into force.

New moratorium

The Act creates a new moratorium intended to give companies breathing space to explore options for survival.

The directors of an eligible company can get a moratorium by filing relevant documents at court. Normally, a company with an outstanding winding-up petition would need a court order to apply for a moratorium. But before 30 March 2021, they will also be able to simply file papers at court.

There must also be a statement from an insolvency practitioner (the monitor) that, in their view, it is likely that the moratorium would result in the rescue of the company as a going concern.

The initial moratorium lasts for 20 business days. The directors can extend the moratorium for a further 20 business days, provided they can – among other things – confirm that all moratorium debts have or will be met. Further extensions (up to a maximum of 1 year) require the consent of creditors. The court may also extend the moratorium. There does not appear to be a maximum extension period if the extension is granted by court order.

During the moratorium

  • Creditors can't take enforcement action for pre-moratorium debts, i.e. debts that have fallen due before or fall due during the moratorium. However, there are some exceptions, including amounts payable for goods/services supplied during the moratorium, rent for the period of the moratorium, salaries, and debts or other liabilities involving financial services.
  • No insolvency proceedings can be started against the company during the moratorium period, though the directors can still start them via the monitor.
  • No creditor can enforce security or repossess goods in the company's possession, unless they get the court's permission. No proceedings or legal process can be started or continued, and a landlord can't exercise a right of forfeiture by peaceable re-entry. The moratorium prevents a floating charge from becoming a fixed charge (i.e. crystallising) and stops restrictions being imposed on the disposal of assets.
  • The monitor must ensure that it's appropriate for the moratorium to stay in place, and sanction certain acts by the company. The monitor must end the moratorium in certain situations, e.g. if the company's rescue is no longer likely, or if the company can't pay its moratorium debts.

Creditor protections

There are protections for creditors (or members) of the company to apply to court for relief on the grounds that the management of the company's affairs, business and property unfairly harms their interests.

Eligibility

Companies are generally eligible, unless they:

  • are a financial service company;
  • are already subject to a formal insolvency proceeding;
  • have already been subject to a moratorium during the 12 months prior to the filing date (unless the court orders otherwise); or
  • have already been subject to a Company Voluntary Arrangement or administration during the 12 months prior to the filing date (although until 30 March 2021, this restriction is lifted to account for the impact of COVID-19).

New restructuring plan

Under the Act, a restructuring plan can be proposed between a company and its creditors (and/or members) for the purpose of dealing with financial difficulties.

This will apply to any company liable to be wound up under the Insolvency Act 1986 that has encountered (or is likely to encounter) financial difficulties that affect its ability to carry on business as a going concern.

Any creditor or member whose rights are affected by the plan must be allowed to participate in the process, and be given enough information to vote on the plan. However, those with no genuine economic interest in the company can be excluded.

The voting majority for each class is 75% in value. If passed, the plan has to be approved by the court, who will assess whether it's just and equitable. However, it's also possible for the court to sanction the plan where a class has voted against it. It can do that if:

  • the members of the dissenting class would be no worse off under the plan than they would be in the event of the relevant alternative; and
  • at least one class who would receive a payment (or would have a genuine economic interest in the company in the event of the relevant alternative) voted in favour.

'Relevant alternative' is whatever the court considers would be most likely to happen if the plan were not sanctioned.

Where a plan is proposed within 12 weeks of the end of the new moratorium period, it can't affect the rights of creditors in respect of either moratorium debts or pre-moratorium debts that weren't subject to the moratorium restrictions.

Restrictions on statutory demands and winding-up petitions

The Act temporarily:

  • prevents certain statutory demands made by creditors from being effective, and
  • stops winding-up petitions from being brought against a company on the grounds that it can't pay its debts (or a winding-up order being made on those grounds), if the inability to pay is the result of COVID-19.

This applies to any statutory demand served between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2021. It prevents them forming the basis of a winding-up petition presented at any point after 27 April 2020.

A petitioner can still present a winding-up petition against a company if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the inability to pay is not the result of COVID-19.

Likewise, a court could still make a winding-up order if it's satisfied that the debts would have arisen even if COVID-19 had not had a direct financial effect on the company.

These restrictions will apply retrospectively. That means existing winding-up orders will be cancelled if they were made for coronavirus-related reasons between 27 April 2020 and 26 June 2020 (the date the Act was passed).

For winding-up orders that were based on petitions presented between 27 April 2020 and 31 March 2021, the commencement date of the winding-up will be the date of the order, not the petition. This will have a number of knock-on effects, including that dispositions of property by the company made after the date of the petition will not be automatically void, as they would be otherwise.

Protection of supplies of goods and services

Contracts for the supply of goods or services will often allow suppliers to take action if the company they're supplying becomes subject to an insolvency procedure, e.g. by allowing them to end the contract. This helps the supplier to manage the risk of continuing to supply the goods/services but not getting paid.

The Act provides that certain suppliers won't be able to make use of such clauses. This applies even if the right to end the contract arises before an insolvency procedure, but wasn't taken up (the right is suspended when the insolvency procedure begins).

This restriction doesn't apply where the company or supplier is involved in financial services, including insurance companies and banks.

There is a temporary exemption, which began on 26 June and lasts until 30 March 2021, for suppliers that are defined as small entities. Broadly, a supplier is a small entity if at least 2 of the following 3 conditions apply to its most recent financial year:

  • Its turnover wasn't more than £10.2m.
  • Its balance sheet assets total wasn't more than £5.1m.
  • Its average number of employees wasn't more than 50.

(If the supplier is in its first financial year, these conditions are adjusted accordingly.)

If a supplier isn't a small entity, there are still exceptions. They can still end the contract if:

  • the company stops paying them (provided the contract allows that); or
  • the company agrees; or
  • a court allows it, which it can if it's satisfied that continuing the contract would cause the supplier hardship.

Bankruptcy help for debtors (Scotland)

Under both the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act and the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No. 2) Act, those with significant debts have more flexibility to apply for bankruptcy and more protection from creditors.

The changes will apply until 31 March 2021, and could be further extended to as far as the end of September 2021.

We've listed the main changes below, but see the Accountant in Bankruptcy website for more information on both the first act and the second act.

Moratorium extension

A moratorium is the period during which those owed money can't take any formal action against those who owe it. The purpose is to give those in debt time to consider their options and get appropriate advice.

The moratorium starts on the date on which an individual or other eligible entity gives the Accountant in Bankruptcy (AiB) notice that they intend to apply for bankruptcy (also known as 'sequestration'). It now ends after 6 months, rather than the usual 6 weeks. It's also now possible to give notice to the AiB more than once in a year.

If you're thinking of making use of this, keep in mind that if a moratorium is approved, your details will be published on the public Register of Insolvencies and this will probably affect your credit score.

Creditor petitions

Creditors can now only apply to court to make an individual or entity bankrupt (also known as 'sequestration') if they're owed £10,000 or more. The previous limit was £3,000.

Minimal Asset Process (MAP) bankruptcies

MAP bankruptcies are designed to be a simpler process for those on lower incomes and with few assets. Previously, you can't make use of MAP if your debt exceeds £17,000, but that threshold has now been raised to £25,000. Any student debt you have is ignored for the purposes of calculating this total. Also, the MAP application fees have reduced from £90 to £50, and have been removed entirely if you receive certain benefit payments.

Social distancing

Meetings of creditors can now take place virtually. All forms (except Form 9) prescribed by the Bankruptcy (Scotland) Regulations 2016 can be signed using an electronic signature.

Court action

Businesses can still take court action to resolve disputes during the pandemic, provided you're not a landlord taking action in response to rent arrears. It's likely claims will take longer than normal.

If your claim is already in progress, it is likely to be handled differently.

England & Wales

Her Majesty's Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) is making use of phone and video hearings. If a particular hearing can't be carried out in this way and it's urgent, it'll be held in a priority court and tribunal building (i.e. one that's not been closed due to the pandemic).

You can still find the relevant court in relation to your hearing here.

HMCTS published and will continue to update additional guidance for all court and tribunal users during the pandemic. There are also weekly operational updates.

Scotland

For the situation in Scotland, see the Scottish Courts and Tribunals website.

Northern Ireland

For the situation in Northern Ireland see Judiciary NI.

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