As Ireland’s coronavirus vaccine programme continues its rollout across the country, the government is taking a cautious approach to reopening the economy.
At the end of April 2021, the government announced an update to its revised plan for a phased reopening: COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021: The Path Ahead.
This article will explain the timeline proposed under the revised plan, what it means for your business and what financial supports are available.
Here’s what it covers:
- Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme
- Pandemic Unemployment Payment
- COVID-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit
- COVID-19 Restrictions Support Scheme
- Small Business Assistance Scheme for COVID
- Strategic Tourism Transport Business Continuity Scheme
- Sustaining Enterprise Fund
- Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund
- COVID-19 SBCI Working Capital Loan Scheme
- Future Growth Loan Scheme
Here’s what the timeline for the reopening of the country looks like for the coming weeks and months for businesses. Anything opening from June is subject to the coronavirus situation at the time.
- All construction work is allowed to restart.
- Those who work outdoors are allowed to return to work.
- Non-essential retail will open in a phased approach. Retailers can offer click and collect to customers, which has to be by appointment only for in-store; outdoor retail can start.
- Barbers, hairdressers and beauticians are allowed to open; customers must have an appointment.
- Cultural attractions – such as museums, libraries and galleries – can reopen.
- Public transport will be running at 50% capacity.
- All other retail outlets are allowed to reopen.
- Hotels, hostels, self-catering and bed and breakfasts can reopen. However, services can only be used by overnight guests and residents.
- Restaurants and bars can offer services outdoors; groups are limited to six people only.
- Sporting facilities such as leisure centres, gyms and swimming opens can open again, only for people training individually.
End of June
- Indoor hospitality (covering the likes of nightclubs, bars, restaurants and casinos), indoor team and group sports (including exercise classes), mass events (both indoors and outdoors), and international travel will be reviewed ahead of them opening up later in the year.
Financial supports and how to access them
Many financial supports for businesses remain in place and some schemes have been extended, while new funding options have been added.
Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme
This scheme, which replaced the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme in August 2020, supports employers whose businesses have been adversely affected by pandemic restrictions.
The initial two-tier payments were revised to four tiers in Budget 2021 and came into effect from 20 October 2020.
The revised rates are based on employee’s previous earnings as follows:
- Earnings from €151.50 to €202.99 receive €203
- Earnings from €203 to €299.99 receive €250
- Earnings from €300 to €399.99 receive €300
- Earnings from €400 to €1,462 receive €350.
Earnings under €151.50 and over €1,462 do not qualify.
Businesses must have a valid tax clearance certificate and have experienced a reduction of at least 30% in turnover due to the pandemic.
The scheme, which was previously extended to 31 March 2021, has been further extended to 30 June 2021.
Pandemic Unemployment Payment
This weekly payment is for employees and self-employed people who have lost their income due to the pandemic. If you’re self-employed or a freelance contractor, you can earn up to €960 over eight weeks without losing your payment.
Rates are linked to previous earnings in 2018 or 2019 as follows:
- Those with weekly earnings under €200 receive €203
- Those with weekly earnings from €200 to €299.99 receive €250
- Those with weekly earnings from €300 to €399.99 receive €300
- Those with weekly earnings of €400 or more receive €350.
This scheme has been extended to 30 June 2021 and new applicants can join the scheme.
COVID-19 Enhanced Illness Benefit
This payment is for those who cannot work due to a coronavirus diagnosis or who must restrict their movements because they are deemed a close contact of a diagnosed person.
The enhanced weekly payment is €350 instead of the usual Illness Benefit rate of €203. It will be paid for two weeks for contact cases and up to 10 weeks for applicants with a coronavirus diagnosis.
The payment has been extended to 30 June 2021.
To apply online you will need a MyGovID account. You can include your medical certificate with your application, or your doctor can submit a medical certificate directly.
COVID-19 Restrictions Support Scheme
The COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) introduced in October 2020 to replace the Restart Grant Plus scheme assists companies that were forced to close or had significantly reduced trade due to the coronavirus pandemic restrictions of Level 3 or higher.
Eligible businesses in the accommodation, arts, recreation and entertainment and non-essential retail, hair and beauty services sectors receive a weekly payment in the form of an advanced tax credit against trading expenses.
The payment of up to €5,000 is self-assessed and based on your 2019 average weekly turnover.
The CRSS was initially set to run until 31 March 2021 and has been extended to 30 June 2021. For more details and how to claim under the scheme, visit the relevant section on the Revenue website.
Small Business Assistance Scheme for COVID
This new scheme was introduced on 11 March 2021 for small companies that are ineligible for the CRSS and other sector-specific funding, including Fáilte Ireland’s Business Continuity Scheme.
The €60m scheme will provide €4,000 for the first quarter of 2021 for businesses that met specific criteria. A second €4,000 payment for the following quarter will be available to companies that continue to meet the requirements.
Businesses must pay rates to a public authority and have previously a minimum turnover of €50,000 and have a reduced average weekly turnover of 75% or more since the pandemic.
Contact your local authority for information on how to apply. The first round of the scheme closed on 21 April 2021. However, a decision is being made on the second quarter for 2021.
Strategic Tourism Transport Business Continuity Scheme
The new scheme for eligible tourism transport operators opened on 8 April 2021.
Existing tourism transport operators such as tourist vehicle rental companies, chauffeur and limousine businesses and escorted tour providers must have had a minimum turnover of €50,000 in 2019 and experienced at least 75% downturn in turnover between January and March 2021 when compared with the same period in 2019.
Grant amounts are based on 10% of eligible turnover in 2019 and capped at €800,000 across associated schemes. To submit an application under this scheme, you must sign up for a Fáilte Ireland Trade Portal Account.
Sustaining Enterprise Fund
This Enterprise Ireland scheme has been extended and expanded, and there are now two funding options available.
The first is an extension of the support for companies with 10 or more employees engaged in manufacturing and internationally traded services that have experienced at least a 15% reduction in actual or projected turnover.
Supports of between €100,000 and €800,000 are available with up to 50% of a funding package as a non-repayable grant (capped at €200,000).
The second part of the funding provides €25,000 to €50,000 of repayable and non-repayable short-term working capital for small enterprises for a three to six -month period to support continuity and sustainability.
Companies involved in the coal or steel sector or primary agricultural, fishery or aquaculture sectors are ineligible for this scheme.
To find out more about the funding and how you can access it contact your development adviser at Enterprise Ireland or the COVID-19 Business Response Unit.
You will be required to submit a Business Sustainment Plan as part of your funding application.
Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund
This €2bn scheme operated by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) is aimed at medium and large companies, and priority will be given to enterprises that employ more than 250 employees or have an annual turnover of €50m or more.
Businesses must have been viable and profitable in 2019, and all sectors will be considered.
COVID-19 SBCI Working Capital Loan Scheme
The scheme operated by the state-backed Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland through participating banks aims to help small and medium-sized businesses to adapt to challenges presented by the pandemic.
Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and small midcap companies, excluding those operating in primary agriculture and aquaculture sector and those in financial difficulties, can apply for reduced interest loans from €25,000 to €1.5m.
The loans must be used for future working capital and to adapt to the current economic environment.
The scheme has been extended to 31 December 2021, or until it has been fully subscribed. For further information, visit the SBCI website.
Future Growth Loan Scheme
The scheme was set up by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) to assist companies with the challenges posed by Brexit and expanded to provide long-term support to companies during the pandemic.
Viable micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and small mid-cap enterprises in the primary agriculture (farmers) and seafood sectors can apply for a loan from €100,000 to €3m. Terms are eight to 10 years; interest rates are from 3.5% to 4.5%.
You will need to confirm your eligibility with the SBCI before applying to one of the participating lenders.
Further financial supports
Whether your business falls under one of the sectors that may reopen soon or not, you could be eligible to apply for any of the above financial supports available.
The government has also made further provisions to reduce financial hardship on businesses during the current economic situation. These include:
- Businesses with fewer than 10 employees can avail of up to €2,500 to grow their online business under the Trading Online Voucher. Previous recipients can apply for a second voucher. To find out more, contact your Local Enterprise Office.
- Businesses that have experienced reduced trading due to coronavirus restrictions can avail of a provision for warehousing of their tax liabilities.
- Commercial rates waivers have also been extended for a further three months for affected businesses.
- A reduced VAT rate of 9% for the hospitality and tourism sectors remains in place until 31 December 2021.
Additionally, if your business is set to reopen soon, the Health and Safety Authority has prepared some helpful templates and checklists to assist with the transition.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in April 2021 and has been updated for relevance.