UK business leaders draw-up fresh proposal to support forgotten firms struggling during COVID
A coalition of small business leaders, tax experts and company directors have detailed the measures needed to address a government shortcoming which has left thousands with no income support throughout months of COVID-linked disruption.
Forgotten Ltd, the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Rebecca Seeley Harris, the former senior advisor to the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) have written to the Treasury to outline steps needed to help directors.
The group has urged that many of those classified as self-employed by the Government have been able to claim grants covering the significant majority of their incomes if they’ve been impacted by restrictions since the Spring, and can continue to do so until April 2021.
By contrast, the Treasury and HMRC have stated that a comparable scheme for company directors would be impossible to establish because many pay themselves in dividends and there is “no way” to establish whether such income is derived from business activity or other investments.
The group state in their letter to the Treasury that a Directors Income Support Scheme (DISS), founded on the principles underpinning the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, could be established by drawing on details regarding trading profits and remuneration submitted by business owners to companies house – largely through corporate tax returns – information that is already available to HMRC.
Stressing the importance of companies to the UK’s economic recovery from, the group has warned that “hundreds of thousands have suffered severe financial hardship, and are now at serious risk of closure. Up to 7.5 million of their employees are at risk of unemployment”.
They add that, without immediate assistance, “we will see fewer businesses in existence, and fewer jobs – these cannot be furloughed, as they won’t exist anymore.”
The collective forecasts that the cost of its proposed scheme would be between £2bn and £6bn, depending on its scope. Last month, the National Audit Office (NAO) forecast the cost of government income support for employees to be £55bn.
The latest statistics from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) state that there are just under one million non-employing companies across the UK and two million that are classed as micro-entities (employing 10 people or less).
Rebecca Seeley Harris, of Re Legal Consulting Ltd, and a former Senior Advisor to the OTS, said: “This initiative shows how resourceful and creative small company directors are and they are the life blood of the UK economy. The government should be getting behind us by bringing in DISS to provide support at this critical time.”
Georgina Broadhurst, co-founder of Forgotten Ltd, added: “The ForgottenLtd Campaign represents hundreds of thousands of hard-working, tenacious small business owners across the UK, who are currently looking down the barrel of a gun. After eight months without meaningful support many businesses are on the brink of collapse or insolvency. Directors have found themselves having to take on debt or spend their life savings to stay afloat.
“The furlough scheme has supported their 7.5 million employees, but without financial support for the directors and the companies themselves, there will be no jobs for staff to return to by Spring. As a group of natural-problem solvers we embraced the challenge of finding a solution to the dividend issue and we hope the Treasury gives full consideration to our proposal.”
Claire Bennison, head of ACCA UK, commented: “We appreciate the challenges that the government is managing at this time, however, we have come together in partnership to find a workable solution to save jobs, and to level up the playing field. These local businesses are the ones who will play a significant part in our economic recovery and they deserve to be treated equally.”
Mike Cherry, FSB National chairman, said: “For months now company directors – who have dutifully paid corporation and dividend taxation for years – have been told by the Treasury and HMRC that helping them falls into their too difficult box.
“Our fresh proposal demonstrates that, in fact, putting together a support scheme for directors in-line with what’s available to the self-employed is pretty straightforward – so much of the information needed is there in existing tax returns. These individuals are not statistics on a spreadsheet, they are real people with bills to pay and families to feed. It’s high time this Government – which claims to be pro-enterprise – helps them.”