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What does the UK’s three-tier lockdown system mean for small businesses?

4-minute read

Sam Bromley

15 October 2020

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The new three-tier alert levels aim to simplify the current local lockdown system, with huge implications for businesses in areas on higher alert than usual.

There are three alert levels – medium (tier one), high (tier two) and very high (tier three). These alert levels will decide what businesses are allowed to stay open, as well as what financial support is available to businesses.

For example, pubs and bars must close in tier three areas, unless they also operate as a restaurant.

Why have local Covid-19 alert levels been introduced?

The government is hoping that the new Covid-19 alert system will simplify the process of enforcing local restrictions.

The alert level will change depending on the rate of infections in a particular area. The medium alert level is reserved for the baseline national restrictions, whereas high and very high bring tougher rules.

You should keep track of which alert level applies to your area, as the situation can change quickly and arbitrarily.

Here’s what the different alert levels and tiers mean for your business.

Medium Covid alert level (tier one)

This is the normal level where national restrictions apply.

Unless your business is required to close by law (like nightclubs), you can stay open as long as you're following the Covid-secure guidelines.

At the moment, the national restrictions mean that people can’t socialise in groups of more than six.

If your business sells food and drink, your customers have to consume it while seated, and you need to shut between 10pm and 5am.

Takeaways that sell products to be consumed off the premises can open beyond 10pm, but it has to be sold through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-through.

And if you run a fitness or sports business, you can carry on running classes outdoors, or indoors if you follow the rule of six.

If it’s possible for you and your employees to work from home, the government says that you should “where you can effectively do so”.

Read more about the medium alert level restrictions.

High Covid alert level (tier two)

On top of the above measures, areas in high alert have additional restrictions.

The main one is that you can’t socialise with anybody who isn’t in your household or support bubble in an indoor setting.

This could have implications for businesses that serve customers. For example, people from different households shouldn’t mix in groups in pubs and restaurants, although it’s unclear how this should be enforced in practice.

The government’s Covid-secure guidelines on “ensuring customer compliance with the limits on gatherings” say that businesses could use signage, make sure staff are familiar with the guidance, and ask for verbal confirmation of the number of customers in a particular group.

Indoor exercise classes can only go ahead if it’s possible for people to avoid mixing with people they don’t live with, or don’t share a support bubble with.

And while people are free to travel to open venues and amenities, the government asks that everybody aims to reduce the number of journeys they make.

Read more about the high alert level restrictions.

Very high Covid alert level (tier three)

While there are baseline restrictions in tier three, the rules can vary depending on your area. That’s because tier three restrictions are based on discussions between local and central government.

In general, though, tier three restrictions mean that:

  • you can’t mix with anybody outside your household or support bubble, both indoors or in any private garden, or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events
  • pubs and bars must close, unless they can operate as a restaurant serving “substantial meals”. You can only serve alcohol alongside these meals
  • the same tier two restrictions on fitness and exercise classes apply
  • you should avoid leaving a tier three area, or travelling to tier three areas, unless it’s for work, education, youth services, or to provide care
  • you should avoid travelling outside of a tier three area and staying overnight somewhere else, or travelling to and staying overnight in a tier three area

Following discussions with your local authority, the government might also force these businesses to close:

  • hospitality
  • indoor and outdoor entertainment venues and tourist attractions
  • leisure centres and gyms
  • personal care and close contact services (this could include hair salons and barbers, for instance)
  • performing arts venues

Read more about the very high alert level restrictions.

Is there additional financial support for businesses forced to close?

The government has announced an extension to the new Job Support Scheme. This means that if your business is forced to close in a local lockdown and your employees can’t work for a week or more, the government will pay two thirds of their normal salary, up to £2,100 a month.

Rishi Sunak has also expanded the help available through the Local Restrictions Support Grant (LRSG). This aims to support businesses in England that were open and trading as normal before being forced to close for at least two weeks.

Smaller businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or less can get grants of £667 per two weeks of closure (£1,334 per month).

Read more about the coronavirus support available for small businesses.

Will the tier system work for small businesses?

The Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Mike Cherry, said: “Small businesses that have spent thousands on safety measures for their premises, and made every effort to follow existing guidelines, will now be told to close. Any further restrictions placed on them should be evidence-led – transparency is a must.”

And Tom Stainer, the chief executive of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), said that while pub-goers understand the need for safety measures, the tier system “has exacerbated the feeling that pubs have become a scapegoat for the pandemic.

“In Merseyside, pubs are being forced to close whilst similar businesses like restaurants are allowed to stay open. This is despite the fact publicans have done everything asked of them to make their venues COVID-secure.”

What do you think about the government’s tier system? Let us know in the comments below.

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We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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