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Pressure mounts as COVID support schemes end

28 September 2021

Accountants are warning that a "perfect storm" is brewing for UK small businesses as COVID support schemes come to an end and other pressures build including rising energy prices, supply chain issues and a looming National Insurance hike.

Research from The Accountancy Partnership has found that 70% of business owners are worried about their financial situation and money worries are the top issues for entrepreneurs that are struggling with their mental health.

The findings show that the vast majority (91%) of SME owners have had concerns about their financial situation at some point, with more than a third (36%) confessing to worrying often about their financial standing. These concerns are causing significant stress with more than one in ten (12%) entrepreneurs saying they have sought professional help over the state of their mental health, while a quarter (24%) have spoken to a friend or family member as a result of a decline in their wellbeing.

Lee Murphy, md of The Accountancy Partnership, said: "The current mix of economic and business pressures has the potential to paint a bleak picture for many of the UK's small business owners. This on top of what has been a difficult 18 months for everyone could lead to a considerable decline in mental state of millions of entrepreneurs. We have seen examples of this ourselves with a surge in enquiries as owners seek to get their financial affairs in order."

Now businesses across the UK are facing new challenges. Murphy said: "The National Insurance hike will disproportionately affect small businesses which do not have the disposable income to cover the increased price of staffing ... In addition, coronavirus financial support measures, such as furlough and business grants are coming to an end imminently, there are serious supply chain issues in the UK and gas supply problems are bringing about fears of energy prices rocketing, which all threaten business profitability … This perfect storm is likely to be daunting for small business owners, so the most important advice is to understand and prepare as early as possible."

This week sees the winding up of key support schemes introduced by the government to support businesses affected by the pandemic:

  • The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) - or furlough scheme - is to close at the end of September but employers can submit claims for employees who were furloughed during September up to 14 October.
  • The fifth and final grants under the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) opened for applications in July; freelancers and business owners must claim on or before 30 September 2021.
  • The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme closes at the end of September; employers have until 31 December 2021 to claim for employees who were off work because of COVID in September.

Also ending this month is the reduced rate of VAT for hospitality and tourism. The rate of 5% VAT was introduced in 2020 and applied to food and non-alcoholic drinks as well as accommodation and for admission to attractions. From 1 October, the government is introducing a new reduced rate of 12.5% VAT for hospitality, holiday accommodation and attractions which will apply until 31 March 2022.

Written by Rachel Miller.

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