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Working from home during Covid-19

It’s work, but not as we know it

I sit at my desk as I write this blog, my computer on one side of me, my printer on the other side. The window slightly ajar, I can hear the song of the birds in the trees. My phone buzzes and yep, it’s a client getting in touch as they do each quarter to find out the dreaded VAT bill.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a normal day for me. I guess to some degree it is. I mean, the content of the day in many ways remains the same as it did 8 weeks ago. I still speak with Caroline more than I do the majority of my family members, the staff still groan when I make a cheesy joke mid-conversation, and I still use Xero like it’s going out of fashion.

The difference is I do it all from home.

COVID-19 has arrived in the country like some sort of bullet train and we’ve all had to adjust to this ‘new normal’ whether we like it or not.

At Kirkwood Wilson, we actually began working from home before the lockdown was announced. Dan and I spent time ensuring that we had enough WiFi dongles that everyone could get set up at home. We even had a trial day where we each tested the systems we’d be using at home so we could be certain it would be very much business as usual.

And that’s exactly what it is for us: business as usual. Yes, the scenery is different but we work as efficiently as we ever have.

Questions about Benefits-in-Kind have now been replaced with queries about the various Coronavirus help schemes introduce by HMRC. VAT returns are in the majority filed and our focus is very much on completing the furlough claims for March and April for our clients. Year-end accounts have, for the last week or so at the very least, taken a sensible back seat whilst we concentrate on transferring payroll schemes from our old systems to the new Xero Payroll software.

We have never been busier nor needed more by our clients, but I truly believe we’ve excelled in challenging circumstances. The staff have pulled together in ways I don’t think any of us could have imagined. We have an incredible team at KW and each one brings something unique to our incredibly cohesive unit. Twice weekly meetings on Zoom now start our Monday and Thursday mornings in the best way possible.

Microsoft Teams has meant that we can still keep our juniors’ knowledge expanding on a daily basis and allows us to connect with our clients to get year-end meetings boxed off and accounts out of the door. Clients remain informed of tax liabilities well in advance of their deadlines.

Clients will be missing the sound of Ash or Jo’s friendly voices as they would usually pick up the phone and pass you over to one of the staff should you have a query for us. We’re now contactable by mobile phone and I for one can vouch that my phone’s been taking a beating with phone calls the last few weeks.

What that’s meant though is for the client, everything appears seamlessly integrated with our former methods of working. The client experience, in our opinion remains as high, if not higher than ever and we really do believe this period is laying the foundations for the practise to move forward in the best shape possible.

The ‘new normal’? More than likely not forever. I for one think this will usher in a new way of working for everyone, and one in which adaptability becomes the new buzzword.

Working from home

Kirkwood Wilson logo

Update on Kirkwood Wilson and our responses to the Coronavirus pandemic

First of all, and most importantly, we sincerely hope that you are keeping in good health and managing to cope day to day with the restrictions currently in place. This pandemic certainly brings home the fact that health is the most important factor in our lives!

I thought that it would be useful to update everyone on how we at KW are coping with the crisis.

I am truly grateful that we made the important decision to move all of our operations onto ‘the cloud’ some time ago. As a result of this, we were simply able to leave the office and work from home with a very minimal amount of disruption.

We are managing to keep everyone working and have not had to furlough any of our team and, as long as our clients keep the work flowing in, then we will be able to continue with this approach. We have regular Zoom meetings with the entire team so we all know exactly where we are up to and what’s happening with you, our clients.

Here’s an update on each team:

Accounts

All of the accounts team are managing to keep on top of all of their bookkeeping, VAT and year end workload. Fortunately, 90% of our accounts clients use cloud-based software so we can carry on as normal. In other cases, there is always an innovative solution to retrieving data electronically!

All of the team are accessible on their mobiles and we have spent the last two weeks reassuring our clients, helping them plan their cashflow and advising regarding the various grants and schemes available.

Whilst we appreciate that, for many clients , the monthly bookkeeping load will reduce, we still have to prepare and submit VAT returns and year end accounts.

We intend to press on with this work so that we keep as many clients as possible up to date with the statutory duties.

Payroll

Payroll has undoubtedly been our busiest department and we would like to thank our clients for being patient whilst we have been answering the hundreds of emails requiring specific advice.

We are currently completing the payroll year ends and then we will be starting the April month ends and coping with the two short weeks for the Easter break!

Please let us have your payroll information as soon as you possibly can (this might be relatively easy if all of your team are furloughed!).

Tax

We have just started the new tax year and Ange, Julie and Kirsty are raring to go! Please let us have your tax return information as soon as possible so that we can look at your payments on account and help you with the self employed grant claim, where appropriate.

For some clients, the thought of having to pay for the tax work might deter them from providing the information. We are always happy to accommodate a payment plan to suit your needs and please talk to us about this if it is a concern.

Ad hoc work

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you simply need some advice or someone to talk to about your finances. We are here to help and we definitely won’t be raising any extra fee notes where clients need to chat.

We are all in this together and the more clients that we can help to survive this crisis, the better we will feel in the long run.

Updates are going up on our Facebook page, so please ‘like’ and follow us to keep up to date.

Finally, we would like to wish you a happy Easter and all of our best wishes in these difficult times.

Take care

Caroline and Dan

Small Business Grant Funding

The Small Business Grant Funding can now be claimed for online, please use your local councils website to access the relevant portal.

The below link will help you find which local authority you come under if you are unsure:-

Find your local authority

The details required to make the claim are as follows:

  • Company Name
  • Company Number
  • Address of Premises
  • Business Rates Account Number *
  • Property Reference Number *
  • Property Description *

*Can be found on your rates demand letter

Business Bank Account Details

You will also need to know the rateable value of the property, if you do not have a rates demand letter available, please use the link below to obtain this information:-

Find your businesses rateable value

The small business rates grant is £10,000 for businesses with little or no business rates.

The Retail and Hospitality Grant Scheme is also now open for applications which provides business in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors with a cash grant up to £25,000 per property.

Businesses in these sectors with a property that has a rateable value of up to £15,000 may be eligible for a grant of £10,000.

Businesses in these sectors with a property that has a rateable value of over £15,000 and less than £51,000 may be eligible for a grant of £25,000.

Please ensure you are claiming for the correct grant.

We have received feedback from clients who have made their claim that the processing time for these claims are 7 days. Once the claim has been approved the amount will be within the business bank account within 7 days of your local authority approving the claim.

We are unaware whether these timings will alter due to the level of applicants, therefore we advise you to apply ASAP. This should help you obtain the business grant within the next week or two to support your cashflow needs.

What is Furlough and how can I implement it for my Payroll?

An employee furlough refers to a temporary leave or modification of normal working hours for a specific amount of time. It’s a leave of absence given to an employee with the promise that they will still have their job once the leave is over.

There are numerous reasons why employers implement a furlough employee policy, such as plant shutdowns, seasonal work, company reorganisations and reduced demand due to COVID-19.

Don’t rush into implementing an employee furlough policy without talking to your lawyer or HR specialist first.

If you decide that putting employees on furlough is the best option for you and your employees, then you need to prepare a notification letter. Your furlough notice letter should contain the following:

  • Address – This is a formal letter, a furlough notice should clearly state the date, employee’s name, and their address
  • Purpose – State the purpose of the letter. Get straight to the point. Include the employee’s position, department, reason for the furlough, and information about any changes to employee benefits. It is advisable to tell the employee that this action does not reflect dissatisfaction in job performance
  • Detail – Explain what a furlough is, determine the length of the furlough, and communicate employee benefits during this period to employees
  • Future communication – Offer a way for the employee to keep in touch. End the letter on a positive note.

An example of a furlough letter to your employee

Here is an example of the kind of letter you might send to your employees (feel free to copy this);

(Send to employee’s address or email. Note you should discuss and record employee agreement to be Furloughed before you send this letter)

Dear [Employee name],

NI NUMBER AND / OR PAYROLL NUMBER

The purpose of this letter is to formally notify you that your position as [INSERT] on the [XXX DEPARTMENT] is being closed temporarily due to the downturn in business as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Your last official day of work will be [INSERT DAY]. Your salary and benefits will continue at their current level during the Furlough period. Please understand this action in no way reflects dissatisfaction with your job performance.

The length of this furlough is [insert future date or unknown currently].

We will provide regular information as the current Pandemic unfolds and when we return to normal working routines.

A Furlough is a short-term paid temporary leave of absence at 80% [AS APPLICABLE] of current salary. The furlough period and provisions may be changed or terminated at the sole discretion of the Company, and does not create any employment contract, express or implied.

During the furlough period, your pension and other benefits will continue [IF APPLICABLE].

Thank you for your contributions to the business and if I can help in any way, please contact me.

Yours Sincerely,

[insert signature]

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS AN EXAMPLE ONLY AND SHOULD NOT BE RELIED UPON UNTIL YOU HAVE CONFIRMED CONTENTS WITH YOUR LAWYERS AND / OR HR SPECIALISTS. WE RECOMMEND SEEKING HR ADVICE WITH ALL EMPLOYMENT MATTERS

Coronavirus support

Support for businesses who are paying sick pay to employees:

The Government will pass legislation shortly to allow small and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19. The eligibility criteria for the scheme will be as follows:

  • This refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19
  • Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible – the size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020
  • Employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19
  • Employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note
  • Eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of Statutory Sick Pay to those staying at home comes into force.

We will keep you fully informed of any developments on when the repayment mechanism for employers will be finalised.

Support for businesses that pay business rates

There will be a business rates retail holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.

Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019 to 2020 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.

A £25,000 grant will be provided to retail, hospitality and leisure businesses operating from smaller premises, with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000.

Any enquiries on eligibility for, or provision of, the reliefs should be directed to the relevant local authority. Guidance for local authorities on the business rates holiday will be published by 20 March.

We will keep you informed of these developments as and when they happen.

Support for businesses that pay little or no business rates

Additional funding for local authorities to support small businesses that already pay little or no business rates because of small business rate relief (SBRR) has been announced by the Government. This will provide a one-off grant of £10,000 to businesses currently eligible for SBRR or rural rate relief, to help meet their ongoing business costs.

If your business is eligible for SBRR or rural rate relief, you will be contacted by your local authority – you do not need to apply.
Funding for the scheme will be provided to local authorities by government in early April. Guidance for local authorities on the scheme will be provided shortly.

We will keep you up to date with the latest news.

Support for businesses through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

A new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will launch shortly to support businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to a per-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee, and the Scheme will support loans of up to £5 million in value. Businesses can access the first 6 months of that finance interest free, as government will cover the first 6 months of interest payments.

Details will follow and we will support any clients needing assistance with obtaining this support.

Support for businesses paying tax

All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time to Pay service. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.

If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559. Please contact us if you want our help here.

Picture of working at home desk

COVID-19 update

As a family run business, the wellbeing of our team is and has always been paramount. Our priority right now is making sure that our team is safe and that we are able to service all of our clients as usual. We understand that this is an incredibly worrying time, and we wanted to take a moment to assure you that we’re following the advice from the Government, NHS, and World Health Organisation. Things are changing daily and weekly, but here’s a little update from us.

The office

All our team were sent home on Tuesday and by lunchtime, we were all set up and working from home.

Telephone

We are still taking phone calls as usual on our normal number and Ashleigh is able to help just the same as before. The only difference at the moment is that the person that you need to speak to will have to call you back, which in most cases is straight away.

Online

Emails and all cloud based platforms are still working as usual, so, for example, the process of uploading receipts to ReceiptBank is working as usual. Access to Xero has not been affected.

Our team

It has been fantastic to see just how resilient we are as a team, and it really does prove that as a team we can do anything. We are using Teams and WhatsApp to communicate throughout the day as well as scheduling in a team catch up every few days by video call.

Updates to help your business

At the moment, we are all obviously waiting for the daily 5pm update from the Government, and we will try to get something out as soon as possible when the updates are there. These will be posted on our social channels (Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn). In between updates, we are of course here to help guide you through this minefield as best as we can.

We hope that whilst everyone’s situation is different, you are able to focus on the positives, no matter how small, and know that this will come to an end.

Stay safe and look after one another.

Many thanks,

Caroline and Dan.

First update following Government announcements

Given the recent situation that has arisen with COVID-19, we thought it would be helpful to provide you with our first update following the Government announcements.

SSP

SSP is now payable to employees from day one if they are absent due to COVID-19 (rather than having to wait and not receive anything for the first 3 days).

Companies can reclaim SSP payments to employees for up to 2 weeks. Anything over that period will NOT be reclaimable.

We aren’t 100% sure, but we anticipate that the SSP will be reclaimed by receiving a credit against your PAYE liabilities. i.e. there’ll be no immediate cash flow benefit to this, but when PAYE becomes due, the amount payable for a period will be reduced by the SSP refund credited to your PAYE account.

Business Interruption Loans

These loans are available up to £5m.

These will be available from next week and businesses must apply through their high street bank and not with the government.

The loan is basically guaranteed by the government up to 80%. We think this will only be available to businesses who will be able to prove they have experienced losses. You won’t just be able to get a nice cheap loan!

The loan has no interest on it for the first 6 months.

Business Rates

All businesses in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sector will pay NO business rates for the next 12 months. The local authority will deal with these over the next few weeks.

£10,000 Grant

This grant is available to ANY business that is eligible for small business rate relief (SBRR). The business must either rent a property or own a property.

You are eligible for SBRR if your business:

– Has a property with a rateable value of less than £15,000
– And, your business has only one property (generally – in some instances it is still available if you have more than one property).

You can find the business’ rateable value on the rates statement for the year.

Anyone eligible for this grant needs to do nothing; the local authority will contact the business in the coming weeks.

£25,000 Grant

This grant is available for businesses in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors that have rateable values between £15,001 and £51,000.

Guidance on this will be provided to the local authority by 20th March so clients can contact them from next week for more information.

Information is coming out daily and we will share as much as possible as soon as it becomes available. Until then, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us and we will help wherever we can.