Welcome to our November newsletter.
I really didn’t think, back in March, that I would still be sending out “emergency” newsletters, based on the latest Government press releases about the pandemic but, here we are, and I think that the latest news suggests that we are going to see little relief for the next few months, other than the controversial “Boris saves Christmas” which appears to be based more on social control than any scientific evidence. Speaking on BBC Newsnight, Professor Andrew Hayward said that allowing families to meet up (in their homes) amounted to “throwing fuel on the fire”. He added:
“We are still in a country where we have got high levels of infection with Covid, particularly in young people. Bringing them together for hours, let alone days, with elderly relatives, I think, is a recipe for regret for many families.
“With the vaccine on the way, if we are not very careful over Christmas we are really in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory on this one.”
As matters stand, many SMEs and particularly those in the hospitality sector, must be wondering how much worse it can get. Personally, I’ve got past the initial criticism of the initial slow reaction to the pandemic and my only concern is that, now that hopefully effective vaccines are in sight, they will provide a basis for a degree (and only that) of a return to normality. For those who have been unable to cope with the catastrophic collapse of their businesses through no fault of their own, I am very sorry and, for those of you who are teetering on the brink, I sincerely hope that you make it to the other side. As you can see from the first news item below, it’s not likely that we are going to see any significant breakthrough until next Easter.
So, on to the latest developments.
Beware of the furlough deadlines
The new, or renewed, furlough scheme has provided a blessed relief for many businesses. However, if you have staff on furlough, please make sure that you get your claims in on time. They will be rejected unless there is a “reasonable excuse for making a claim in time”. The deadlines are:
- November 2020 – 14 December
- December 2020 – 14 January
- January 2021 – 15 February
- February 2021 – 15 March
- March 2021 – 14 April
Suggested reasonable excuses include:
- The death of a partner or close relative
- An unexpected stay in hospital
- An unexpected and serious illness (e.g. Coronavirus) and no-one could claim on your behalf
- A period of self-isolation and no-one could claim on your behalf
- An error by HMRC
So, as you can see, it’s likely to be strictly applied.
As usual I’ve included the latest data about claims (updated this time to 19 November)
There have been:
- 17,909 CBILS loans approved with a value of £18.46bn
- 658 large CBILS loans approved with a value of £4.84bn
- 1.40m bounce back loans approved with a value of £42.18bn
- Furlough claims – £43.0bn
- Deferred VAT – £28.2bn
The new tiers
It seems that the intention is that these new tiers, which come into effect from the end of the current lockdown on 2 December, will remain in force until the end of March 2021. Of course, areas can change from one tier to another during that period, but the signs are that most will start at a high or very high level. The Government has announced that there will be no negotiations with local authorities and the likelihood is that they will be applied on a county-by-county basis. So, what are the restrictions? Again, I’m inclined to support the clarity of the new guidance, which is as follows:
Tier 1 – Medium
Click here for the full sized image Medium
Tier 2 – High
Click here for the full sized image: High
Tier 3 – Very High
Click here for the full sized image: Very High
For most businesses, this is what matters most for the next few months. It’s been hard to get reliable information about the prevalence of the virus in specific areas and, particularly, the infection rate per 100,000, which is the generally accepted benchmark. Thankfully, this is now resolved, and I highly recommend the latest interactive map, which is frequently updated, and provides rates based on postcodes:
You need to add a full postcode and then click on the area to get the latest data. For example, I live in Oxton (North) on the Wirral so I can now find that there have been 8 cases in the last seven days which is a reduction of 52.9% and a rolling rate of 98.1 per 100,000, which is well below the England average. I highly recommend that you try it, particularly if you have a hospitality business. Hopefully, you may find that the current figures for your area are rather better than those that have been recently reported.
The Economic Outlook
After a little positivity, it’s worth noting that in his forecast, Chancellor Rishi Sunak warned that the “economic emergency has only just begun”. The UK economy will have contracted 11.3 per cent by the end of this year (the worst in 300 years), according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, with anticipated unemployment at 7.5%, not quite the “one in ten” in the 1980s, but very alarming nonetheless.
It’s been suggested by employment barrister Sarah Bowen that forcing employees to take annual leave during furlough could be unlawful:
For what it’s worth, I disagree.
As previously advised, businesses that take advantage of the “new” furlough scheme (or perhaps more accurately the extension of the existing scheme) agree to the publication of CJRS claims on the internet, including the name of the employer and a “reasonable indication” of the amount claimed.
This seems to me to be a rather odd announcement taking into account that the whole idea of using the furlough scheme is to keep people in employment.
More significantly, for claim periods starting on or after 1 December, furlough claims cannot be made for people serving a contractual notice period, including retirement and resignation.
The self-employment income support scheme grant has been extended from 1 November. More information here:
If you have been asked to deal with a subject access request, you will know how onerous and particularly time-consuming this can be. We should therefore welcome new guidance from the Information Commissioner’s Office which addresses what amounts to a “manifestly excessive” request, what is a “reasonable fee” for complying with such a request and extending the usual 30-days time limit:
Meanwhile, an employment tribunal (thank goodness that there is a case to report) has awarded costs against a claimant amounting to £432,000 after it emerged that he had made “deceitful” and “duplicitous” recordings resulting in more than 3000 documents being presented at a tribunal that lasted for seven days:
High profile divorce firm Vardags might be reflecting on the wisdom of attracting widespread media attention by attempting to gag a former employee who has highlighted some very interesting dress codes. Ayesha Vardag, who has described herself as the country’s “top divorce lawyer” issued a dress code that advised her (presumably female) staff to be “discreetly sexy” but “never tarty”. She said that staff should look “like a pro, not a pretty young thing”.
She has a particular thing about cardigans. She would accept cravats and “formal waistcoats” but not woolly jumpers or singlets, described as “woolly vests”.
When it comes to shoes, she is a supporter of avoiding “brown in town”.
A representative of the firm, contacted by The Times, said that it was not embarrassed by the leak of the memo and wanted “to own” its dress code policy: (Report in The Times – paywall)
However, the firm has applied for an injunction to prevent the employee who leaked the memo from disclosing any further information. The former employee’s legal representatives have said that she will be bringing a disability discrimination claim.
Kind regards and, as I have said for several months now, very best wishes during this difficult time.