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Coronavirus: what support is available for small businesses and the self-employed?

10-minute read

Coronavirus: what support is available for small businesses and the self-employed?
Simply Business Editorial Team

Simply Business Editorial Team

5 March 2021

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Updated: 9 April 2021 – we’ll update this article with information as it comes in.

With information on the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak constantly changing, it can be hard to figure out what support is available to your small business. To get you started, we’ve pulled together a list of ways you can get financial help to weather the storm until you get back to business as usual.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) – help to pay furloughed employees’ salaries

If you have staff, including apprentices, you’d otherwise have to lay off due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the CJRS will pay a portion of an employee’s salary, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

The CJRS has now been extended until 30 September 2021, which was announced in the Chancellor’s Spring Budget.

The grant available through the CJRS is 80 per cent of wages up to a cap of £2,500.

From 1 July 2021, the level of grant will be reduced and you’ll be asked to contribute towards the cost of your furloughed employees’ wages. Your contribution will be 10 per cent in July and 20 per cent in August and September.

You don't need to contribute for the hours the employee doesn't work – you'll only pay employer National Insurance Contributions (NICs) and pension contributions.

You can use 'flexible furloughing' as well as full-time furloughing, and you can top up your employee’s wages if you want to. When on furlough, employees can’t do any work that makes money or provides services for you. And if you’ve made employees redundant since 23 September 2020, you can rehire and furlough them.

The government has postponed the Job Retention Bonus, which was due to be a one-off £1,000 payment for each employee kept on after furlough.

How do I get this support?

The extension will work in the same way as the previous version of the scheme. says that claims can be made:

  • in respect of an employee for a minimum seven day claim window
  • in advance

All employers with staff can claim support – you don’t need to have used the scheme previously. You should be using a UK bank account and UK PAYE.

The application process involves:

  1. Identifying your employees as ‘furloughed workers’, which means staff who have to take unpaid leave
  2. Telling the affected employees in writing they’re now furloughed or flexibly furloughed
  3. Working out how much you need to claim for using the government calculator

You can read more about claiming through the furlough scheme at

New Restart Grants

From April 2021, a new 'Restart Grant' will be available for businesses in England to help reopen the high street after lockdown.

The Restart Grant offers a one off cash grant of up to £18,000 to businesses, including:

  • pubs
  • clubs
  • hotels
  • restaurants
  • gyms
  • salons

Non essential retail businesses can get up to £6,000 through the scheme as the roadmap plans for shops to reopen sooner than other businesses.

How do I get this support?

You’ll need to speak to your local authority about this grant.

Your business may be eligible if it:

  • is based in England
  • pays business rates on the property
  • has had to close because of national lockdown from January 2021 or between 5 November and 2 December 2020
  • has been unable to provide usual in-person customer service

Read more about eligibility and applying for Restart Grants.

Business rates holiday and discounts for tax year 2021-22

The government cancelled business rates for all retail, leisure and hospitality businesses, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

This business rates holiday applied in England for the full tax year 2020-21, and has now been extended until June 2021 for:

  • shops
  • restaurants, cafés, bars, pubs
  • cinemas, live music venues
  • assembly or leisure properties, like sports clubs, gyms, spas
  • hospitality properties, like hotels, guest houses, self-catering accommodation

After June 2021, business rates will be discounted for the remaining tax year 2021-22. There’ll be a 66 per cent business rates reduction from 1 July 2021 to 31 March 2022, up to a maximum of £2 million for closed businesses.

How do I get this support?

You don’t need to do anything to get this support – it’ll be applied to your April 2021 Council Tax bill.

You can use the government’s business rates calculator to find out the amount you’ll no longer have to pay this year.

Read more about business rates.

Business rates holiday for nurseries

Nurseries in England had a year off paying business rates for tax year 2020-21, and will continue to be exempt until 30 June 2021. They will then get a further discount and pay one third of the usual rate until March 2022.

To be eligible, the building needs to be occupied by providers on Ofsted’s Early Years Register, and completely or mainly used to provide the Early Years Foundation Stage (care and education for children up to age five).

How do I get this support?

Like retail, leisure and hospitality businesses mentioned above, you don’t need to do anything to get this business rates holiday if you’re eligible. Your local council will automatically apply the discount if you’re eligible.

Recovery Loan Scheme

The government launched the Recovery Loan Scheme on 6 April 2021. This replaced previous government guaranteed schemes that ended on 31 March, including the Bounce Back Loan Scheme and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Through the scheme, businesses can get between £25,000 and £10 million, with the government giving lenders an 80 per cent guarantee. The scheme is scheduled to run from 6 April until the end of the year.

How do I get this support?

The scheme launched on 6 April 2021. You’ll be able to access the scheme through the government’s network of approved lenders.

You can see the list of approved lenders and find out how to apply on the British Business Bank website.

Additional Restrictions Grant for businesses that aren’t covered by other grants

Local authorities can give out this discretionary funding to businesses that aren’t eligible for other grants. The government gives examples of who the funding could be given to:

  • businesses which supply the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors
  • businesses in the events sector
  • business required to close but which do not pay business rates

You can’t get funding if your business is in administration, insolvent or has been struck off the Companies House register.

How do I get this support?

You’ll need to speak to your local authority about this grant.

Protection if you can’t pay your commercial rent

The government announced that commercial tenants who can’t pay their rent as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak will be protected from eviction.

The government has extended its initial ban on business evictions multiple times and it's now due to end in June 2021. It says that businesses that can pay rent should continue to do so, as the ban is designed to protect businesses struggling the most.

How do I get this support?

Commercial tenants and landlords are being encouraged to come to voluntary arrangements on repayment.

The government introduced a new code of practice in June 2020, designed to help struggling businesses and landlords work together on rent payment issues. makes it clear that this is protection from eviction if you can’t pay your commercial rent right now, because of the pandemic. It’s not a rent holiday, and commercial tenants will still be liable for the rent.

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Full refund on statutory sick pay due to Covid-19

SMEs with fewer than 250 employees as of 28 February 2020 will get a full refund from the government on 14 days of statutory sick pay per employee off sick with Covid-19. Any sickness you claim for needs to have started on or after 13 March 2020.

How do I get this support?

You don’t need a doctor’s note from your employee, but they do have to either:

  • have had coronavirus
  • be unable to work because they’re self-isolating
  • or be shielding in line with public health guidance

More details and the online repayment system for coronavirus-related SSP is now available on the government website.

Make sure you keep records of all absences and statutory sick pay payments due to Covid-19 (this is good practice for your business for any sickness, at any time).

Read more about statutory sick pay.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS)

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is made up of a series of grants designed to support self-employed people whose business has been adversely affected by coronavirus.

The first grant paid 80 per cent of three months' average monthly trading profits over the last three years, capped at £7,500. The claims deadline for this grant was 13 July 2020.

The second grant paid 70 per cent of three months' average monthly trading profits, capped at £6,570. Applications closed on 19 October 2020.

The third grant covered November 2020 to January 2021 and paid 80 per cent of your average trading profits for three months, up to a cap of £7,500. Applications closed on 29 January 2021.

Because of subsequent lockdowns, this third grant was more generous than originally announced.

A fourth grant is for February 2021 to April 2021 and will pay 80 per cent of your average trading profits for three months, up to a cap of £7,500.

And in March, the government extended the scheme for a fifth grant. This will cover May 2021 to July 2021 and will pay 80 per cent of your average trading profits if you’ve seen a drop in turnover of 30 per cent or more. It will pay 30 per cent if you haven't been as severely affected.

Eligibility for the fourth and fifth grant is wider – if you submitted a 2019-20 tax return by midnight on 2 March, you’re eligible. This means people who were newly self-employed can now apply for the grants.

Previously, your average trading profit was your total trading profits or losses for tax years 2016-17 + 2017-18 + 2018-19 divided by three. We're still waiting for details on how SEISS will take 2019-2020 data into account.

You’ll need to take in trading profits of no more than £50,000, and make more than half of your income from being self-employed, to be eligible for the taxable grant.

While you’ll still owe Income Tax and National Insurance on any money you get through the SEISS, it’s a grant rather than a loan. This means you won’t need to pay it back.

How do I get this support?

You can make your application on the website.

The fourth grant will be available to claim in April 2021 – the fifth grant will be available to claim from July 2021.

You’ll need to have a tax return for 2019-20. You can’t be a limited company or operating a trade through a trust.

Other eligibility criteria include:

  • you traded in tax year 2019-20
  • you’re trading when you apply, or you would be if the pandemic hadn’t stopped you
  • you plan to keep trading in tax year 2020-21
  • you’ve lost trading profits because of coronavirus

To be eligible for the fourth and fifth grant extensions, the government says you need to declare that you intend to continue to trade. You should be either:

  • actively trading but facing reduced demand because of coronavirus
  • temporarily unable to trade because of coronavirus, if you were previously trading

While you need to have been eligible for the previous grants, you don’t have to have claimed them.

If you’re not eligible, you can claim for Universal Credit (more below), which you should record as part of your income from self-employment. You may also consider applying for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, mentioned earlier.

Income Tax and VAT deferred for the self-employed

In September 2020, the government announced that Self Assessment taxpayers could defer their tax payments.

The deferral meant that anyone who needed to pay up to £30,000 in tax by 31 January 2021 could make that payment in instalments, delaying paying it in full until 31 January 2022. Interest is applied to the outstanding balance from 1 February 2021.

The government has also introduced a VAT deferral scheme. If you’ve deferred your VAT payments, then you’ll need to opt-in to the scheme to make smaller payments over the 2021-22 tax year.

The government has previously recommended that businesses who can make their tax payments should do so.

How do I get this support?

You can use HMRC’s Time to Pay service to defer your 31 January 2021 Self Assessment tax bill. You need to have no:

  • outstanding tax returns
  • other tax debts
  • other HMRC payment plans set up

You have until 1 April 2021 to set up a Time to Pay arrangement for your Self Assessment bill, if you haven't paid or set one up already.

Visit our Self Assessment and tax resource for guides on self-employed and small business taxes.

Join the VAT defferal scheme here – the new scheme lets you pay your deferred VAT in equal instalments, interest free.

More time to pay Corporation Tax

As of 25 March 2020, if your business is registered with Companies House, you can apply for a three-month extension to the deadline for filing your accounts. Businesses granted this extension won’t get the usual late payment penalty.

How do I get this support?

You need to apply for the extension using the fast-tracked application system. It takes 15 minutes, and any business giving Covid-19 (coronavirus) as the reason will get an automatic and immediate extension, according to the government website.

Read more about Corporation Tax.

Time to Pay coronavirus helpline

HMRC’s Time to Pay service is available for all businesses with outstanding tax bills and who are in financial distress. If coronavirus has caused you difficulty with paying your tax bill that won’t be solved by the tax deferrals mentioned above, you can try the special coronavirus helpline.

How do I get this support?

You can call the dedicated HMRC helpline on 0800 024 1222, but be aware it may take longer than usual to speak to an adviser. Decisions about any extra time you get to pay your bill will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Benefits for self-employed workers during the coronavirus pandemic

If you’re not eligible for Statutory Sick Pay because you’re self-employed or earn below the Lower Earnings Limit of £118 a week, the government is making it easier to claim for Universal Credit or Contributory Employment and Support Allowance during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Universal Credit (UC)

You’ll be able to claim Universal Credit and get advance payments upfront with no need to go to a Jobcentre, if your work has reduced or stopped because of coronavirus.

How do I get this support?

Any payments you get will be based on your actual earnings, and you’ll need to declare any self-employed earnings and expenses at the end of each monthly assessment period.

The Treasury said, “self-employed people can now access Universal Credit in full.

“A self-employed person with a non-working partner and two children, living in the social rented sector, can receive welfare support of around £1,800 per month.”

The government website has details on eligibility and how to claim Universal Credit.

Read more about benefits for self-employed people.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

ESA is for people with a disability or health condition that affects how much they can work. During the coronavirus pandemic, you can apply for ‘new style’ ESA if you can’t get Statutory Sick Pay and you or your child are ill or self-isolating because of coronavirus.

Once you’ve been assessed, you’ll be placed into one of two groups. The amount you’ll get depends on whether you can get back into work:

  • up to £74.35 a week if you’re able to get back into work
  • up to £113.55 a week if you’re unable to get back into work

How do I get this support?

The government website has details on eligibility and how to claim ESA.

Coronavirus business and self-employed support in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

Some of the support measures available to help small businesses through the pandemic are administered by the devolved governments. You can find out more about small business support measures specific to the devolved nations on

Look after your business’s greatest asset

If you’re self-employed, you are your business’s most valuable asset – so look after yourself. The Mental Health Foundation offers useful advice on looking after your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak. You can also find tips and resources on our Better for Business wellbeing hub. Equally, if you’re a small business owner with employees, you can share these tips with your staff.

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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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