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April brings new hardship for small firms

5 April 2022

Business groups are warning that both rising costs and a raft of new business legislation are putting thousands of small firms at risk.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has said that the futures of thousands of small firms and sole traders are in jeopardy as prices continue to rise and new business legislation comes into effect in April.

As well as soaring energy costs, the key challenges facing small firms from this month include:

  • All VAT deferred in the period to June 2020 under COVID reliefs must now be paid in full;
  • The 12.5% VAT rate for the hospitality sector has ended;
  • The requirement to make all VAT returns MTD-compliant has been introduced;
  • The National Living Wage rate for over-23s has increased to £9.50;
  • The business rates discount for high street businesses has been reduced;
  • Protection from eviction for commercial tenants has come to an end;
  • The SSP rebate scheme for small businesses has closed;
  • The weekly SSP rate has gone up to £99.35;
  • There has been a 1.25 percentage point increase in NICs rates for employers, employees and sole traders as well as dividend taxation.

Martin McTague, FSB national chair, said: "These remain incredibly testing times for the small business and sole trader community. Through an increase in the Employment Allowance, a revised MTD timetable and continued business rates discounts, the government has provided meaningful measures to ease the pain of incoming changes.

"There's no use hiding from the facts though: this April flashpoint will push some firms to the brink. Spiralling energy costs are causing huge anxiety - small firms trying to navigate the energy market remain sandwiched between domestic consumers, who are protected by a price cap, and big corporates, which have leverage to secure the best deals."

The UK is also experiencing soaring COVID infection rates and the Office for National Statistics reports that 14% of businesses are not fully trading at the moment. "With so many business owners and employees now forced to isolate as COVID infection rates soar, we and the TUC are urging the government to launch a permanent a sick pay rebate that covers all absences to protect livelihoods," said McTague.

Inflationary pressures have reached "uncharted territory" according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). Its Quarterly Economic Survey Q1 2022 has found that 77% of small business owners cite inflation as a growing concern and 62% expect to raise prices - both these figures represent historical highs.

Shevaun Haviland, BCC director general, said: "Our latest survey lays bare the huge financial stress that firms across the country are under. The level of inflationary pressures has soared to record levels and we are now truly in uncharted territory. Firms cite cost increases coming at them from all angles, ranging from energy bills to raw material prices and the imminent rise in national insurance."

Haviland has called on the government to provide "urgent financial support" through the expansion of the energy bills rebate scheme and via an SME energy price cap. "We also urge the Treasury to rethink and postpone the damaging national insurance increase," she added. "A failure to act now will leave businesses with no option but to continue to raise prices - leading to more difficult months to come for both firms and households."

The Institute of Directors (IoD) has reported that its Directors' Economic Confidence Index has collapsed from -4 in February 2022 to -34 in March 2022, the lowest level since October 2020. Over half (53%) of business leaders say that the cost of energy is exerting a negative impact on their organisation, three times as many as a year ago (14% in March 2021).

Kitty Ussher, IoD chief economist, said: "Business has experienced a dramatic collapse in confidence following the invasion of Ukraine, leading to many firms putting investment plans on hold. The reality of higher energy and commodity prices, plus the hike in employment taxes, all overlaid with a general climate of deep uncertainty, is now having a real economic impact … The chancellor has said he will look again at tax incentives for business investment over the next few months. That work has now become even more urgent."

Written by Rachel Miller.

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