Kim Upshall of Shaftesbury’s Ward Goodman Accountants gives advice on grants or financial benefits from Dorset Council and government, being offered to our town’s traders, shopkeepers, restaurants and tourism businesses.
Kim says some concerned Shaftesbury businesspeople have contacted her following a fall in trade caused by COVID-19 concerns and measures. One of the concessions from government has been the Chancellors’ suspension of business rates for the financial year to 2021.
“I know that’s not until April but at least it means businesses are not going to have to worry about that. In the budget, they originally said it was for businesses with a rateable value of less than £51,000. They have changed that now to cover all businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality industries. It doesn’t matter what your rateable value is, you will not have to pay business rates,” said Kim.
Shaftesbury’s businesses might have already received a letter from Dorset Council setting their business rates for the coming financial year, but if that statement arrived a few days ago, a new letter should follow. “They should be getting an updated one. I had a look on the Dorset Council website yesterday and they have a page on how they are handling COVID-19. They have to put the mechanisms in place and will get out letters to businesses to tell them that they do not have to pay rates from April,” explained Kim.
Kim says a business that qualifies for small business rates relief will be awarded a cash grant of £10,000. “In the budget, they announced it was going to be £3,000 but in the subsequent presentation it’s gone up. The local authority will contact businesses if they are eligible. They (businesses) shouldn’t have to do anything to claim that. The question is how long it will take to kick in because the local authority has quite a lot to deal with.”
Dorset Council should approach businesses directly about this free money offer. That might come as welcome news for many small traders who might not have time to research entitlements or chase up payments. Some Shaftesbury businesses are already starting to struggle with covering for staff who are self-isolating or have childcare issues now schools have closed.
Some larger businesses will receive a payment, depending on the nature of their work. “There’s going to be a £25,000 grant for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000,” said Kim. “In addition to not having to pay rates, there is also a grant from the local council. There is no guidance on how that will work so I don’t know whether they will contact the eligible businesses. You should get some details from tomorrow, from what I have read. We’ll have to wait and see what the process is,” she said.
With an increased number of residents self-isolating, pubs and restaurants will be allowed to start selling hot food takeaway without having to go through the normal planning process to change use from a restaurant to a hot food takeaway. You will need to notify Dorset Council, though.
Kim expects her role will, in part, become a grants adviser in the months ahead. “More and more we will be helping people with where they can get help and helping them produce reports,” she said. “There’s a coronavirus business interruption loan. In order to get the loan, businesses will have to produce financials to whichever bank it is dealing with it. We don’t know which one it is yet. They will have to show how much money they need to cover them for, say, six months. That’s where we are going to come in, in the immediate future.”
If Shaftesbury, business owners are starting to panic when they see bills arrive at a time when customers have dropped off. Kim says communication is key. “If you are worried about a supplier, contact them. Everyone is in the same position. Everybody that you speak to should be understanding of the circumstances because everybody is in the same boat. You can ring HMRC if you are struggling to pay your taxes, VAT or corporation tax. They could set up arrangements and you could potentially pay over a longer period of time.”
Kim says she’s spoken to some local businesses about pausing their operations. “We have discussed them potentially shutting down for a couple of weeks so they can minimise costs. If you can reduce your cost as much as possible in the short term, that will hopefully see you through to when things do pick up, especially if the costs of being open are massively outweighing the income you are receiving.”
Kim says it’s worth looking at all outgoings and seeing whether they can be reduced. “If anybody needs any help or wants to talk, they can contact us at Ward Goodman. We are all working from home, but we are all available by phone, Skype and Zoom. We are aware this is a really worrying time and anything we can do to help, we will.”
Dorset Council offers a business newsletter with information on grants and business rates. You can sign up here.