Growth & Customers

Lifting of Covid restrictions: How businesses can get back up to speed

This article provides helpful advice to SMEs on getting their businesses back up to speed following the lifting of Covid restrictions.

Ireland reopened fully for business on 22 January 2022 following Taoiseach Micheal Martin’s announcement a day earlier.

The end of restrictions came amid a positive outlook for the economy following a fall in unemployment levels and a record tax take in 2021.

The announcements included a once-off public holiday on 18 March 2022 followed by a Day of Remembrance in memory of the victims of the pandemic, a new public holiday on St Brigid’s Day and a €1,000 payment to eligible frontline health workers in recognition of their services.

Measures to ease the transition back to full operations for business owners include extensions of existing employment supports and tax waivers.

This article outlines the key points that are relevant to small and medium businesses following the lifting of restrictions. It also provides you with information about funding and supports you can access to get your business up and running again.

Here’s what we cover:

Covid restrictions that have been lifted

Covid supports available to businesses

Additional supports

How to get your business back up to speed

Final thoughts on the lifting of Covid restrictions

On 21 January 2022, the government announced the lifting of restrictions with effect from 6am the following morning.

For businesses operating in hospitality and entertainment, the following public health measures were removed:

  • The 8pm curfew for pubs and restaurants and nightclubs, which was introduced in early December 2021
  • Physical distancing in hospitality including table service only, 1m between tables and a maximum of six per table
  • Seating only and pods of six for indoor activities
  • Capacity limits for outdoor and indoor events including sport, live entertainment and wedding receptions
  • Vaccination, recovery certificates and social distancing – these are no longer mandatory for hospitality or other indoor activities.

The following restrictions remain until 28 February 2022:

  • Mask wearing is still mandatory for public transport, retail including shops, cinemas, post offices, healthcare and customer-facing service providers such as hospitality and hairdressers
  • International travellers still require a vaccination or recovery certificate
  • The requirement to self-isolate if you have coronavirus symptoms and close contact guidance
  • Protective measures including masks, ventilation and social distancing continue in primary and secondary schools and early years settings.

As the economy recovers, the government has recognised that it will take some time for businesses to get back to normal. Therefore, it’s extended some employment supports and tax waivers that had been due to finish.

In addition, businesses can still avail of some funding schemes and low-cost loans as they recover and return to growth.

The following are the key schemes that are continuing in the short term:

Covid Restrictions Support Scheme

This scheme had been further extended to 31 January 2022 to support businesses affected by pandemic restrictions imposed in December 2021.

Eligible businesses will be paid a restart payment of one additional week of up to €5,000 to help with reopening costs.

Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme

The Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme, which gives a flat-rate subsidy per employee to qualifying businesses, has been extended to 30 April 2022.

Reduced rates of €151.50 to €203 a week, depending on an employee’s gross weekly wage (down from €203 to €350 a week) started on 1 February 2022, while a flat rate of €100 rate begins on 1 March 2022 and runs until the end of April 2022.

However, some businesses that were directly affected by the public health restrictions that were imposed between 20 December 2021 and 22 January 2022 will continue to receive the enhanced rates of subsidy (€203 to €350 a week, depending on an employee’s gross weekly wage) up to 28 February 2022.

Businesses this applies to includes:

  • Restaurants, bars and cafes
  • Indoor event operators
  • Outdoor event operators
  • Wedding reception venues.

For those businesses, the phased reduction in rates has been delayed by one month and supports will continue until 31 May 2022.

The scheme was set up to support businesses with a 30% reduction in turnover or orders due to pandemic restrictions.

Pandemic Unemployment Payment

This payment for employees and self-employed and freelance contractors closed to new applicants on 22 January 2022.

The scheme which reopened to those affected by new restrictions in December 2021 is set to end on 29 March 2022. The weekly rate will reduce to €208 from 8 March 2022 – previously, the reduction was due on 8 February 2022, but a month’s extension was granted due to the early December restrictions.

Eligible recipients will move to a jobseeker’s payment from 5 April 2022.

Reduced VAT rate for hospitality

A reduced rate of VAT of 9% for the hospitality and tourism sectors, which was introduced in 2020, is being extended.

The 9% rate – instead of 13.5% – remains in place until 28 February 2023.

The measure is aimed at restaurants, pubs, hotels and other businesses affected by pandemic restrictions.

Rates waiver

The waiver of commercial rates for businesses most affected by the pandemic restrictions will continue to 31 March 2022. These include businesses operating in the hospitality and entertainment sectors.

Contact your local authority to check if your business is eligible.

Tax Warehousing

The warehousing of VAT and employers’ income tax debt has been further extended by a month to 30 April 2022 for eligible businesses. The eligible debt is interest free up to 30 April 2023 with a reduced 3% rate applicable from 1 May 2023.

Waiver for fees related to late pub licences extended

Publicans and nightclub owners have been granted a further extension of a waiver until 30 April 2022 of court and associated fees related to the renewal of late-night licences.

Enhanced COVID-19 Illness Benefit

The €350 weekly payment remains until 30 June 2022 for those with a diagnosis or suspected of having an infection and have been told by a doctor or a HSE (Health Service Executive) representative to self-isolate.

Claimants require a medical certificate from a doctor or a text from the HSE to support their application.

Below, you can learn about more supports that are available to your business.

Deferred Payment Arrangement

A new Deferred Payment arrangement for companies to help with redundancy costs was announced under the Economic Recovery Plan 2021.

The scheme provides support for businesses in financial difficulties caused by the pandemic restrictions to help with statutory redundancy costs.

Music and Entertainment Business Assistance Scheme

If your business operates in the music industry and has been significantly adversely affected by pandemic restrictions, you could be eligible for a grant under this scheme.

Funding up to the value of 15% of your average monthly pre-pandemic turnover is available to businesses that have had a 60% reduction in turnover in 2021 when compared with pre-pandemic levels.

Applications opened on 27 January 2022 and close on 17 February 2022.

Credit Guarantee Scheme

The scheme providing liquidity support to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) impacted by the pandemic is set to remain until 30 June 2022.

SMEs must be viable but have difficulties with sourcing funding and have experienced a minimum reduction of 15% in actual or projected turnover or profit due to the impact of the pandemic.

The scheme is run by the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI) and provides an 80% guarantee for qualifying loans between €10,000 to €1m and terms of up to five and a half years from participating lenders.

Microfinance Ireland Business Loan

The state-backed scheme was expanded to help businesses affected by the pandemic.

Loans of up to €25,000 are available at reduced interest rates and delayed repayments for six months for businesses with less than 10 full-time employees and an annual turnover of up to €2m.

To find out more about the scheme or to submit an application, visit the Microfinance Ireland website or contact your Local Enterprise Office.

While you look to bring your business back up to speed post-pandemic, it’s a good opportunity to undertake a review of your business and look at accessing supports where necessary.

Working with an accountant or another expert on business growth strategies and cash flow forecasting will help you to prioritise your efforts and investments and set goals for 2022 and beyond.

You might consider investing in your digital offering and revamping your online presence with a website redesign or rebranding.

If you’re looking to future proof your business, you might consider streamlining your sales strategy and putting processes in place to allow your business to scale quickly. For example, having an automated invoicing system in place will save time and money in the future.

You might be eligible for one of the following schemes, which aim to improve your company’s digital offering and financial sustainability.

Business Financial Planning Grant

You may be eligible for a Business Financial Planning Grant from Enterprise Ireland of up to €5,000 to help you develop a plan to improve your business sustainability and to engage the services of a financial consultant.

For more information and to apply contact Enterprise Ireland.

Trading Online Voucher Scheme

In the post-pandemic era, SMEs have realised that having an online presence is essential for future sustainability.

Your Local Enterprise Office provides a grant of up to €2,500 to help small and micro enterprises with designing an e-commerce site.

If you’ve previously been granted a voucher, you may be eligible for a second one. Contact your Local Enterprise to find out more.

Digitalisation Voucher

This scheme for companies in the manufacturing and internationally traded service sectors with 10 or more employees provides a voucher up to a value of €9,000 for technical or advisory services to prepare a plan for the adoption of digital tools and techniques across the company.

Applications, subject to budget availability, are open up to June 2022.

Return to the office and remote working

Among the announcements by Taoiseach Micheal Martin on 21 January was that workers could begin returning to their offices from 24 January 2022 on a phased basis.

Remote working has become normal for many office-based workers and surveys have found that most workers would like to keep the option of working from home at least some of the time.

A new Right to Request Remote Work Bill has been proposed by the government, indicating a change of policy and attitudes around remote working.

As an employer, whether your employees are working remotely, in-office or a hybrid of the two, it makes sense to review your remote working policy and consider investing in software and training.

Seek feedback and input from employees on how you can best provide support and whether new or upgraded systems and equipment can help make the transition to the office or to hybrid/remote working go more smoothly.

While the worst of the pandemic appears to be over, the cycle of restrictions and lockdowns have certainly had an impact on society and the economy. Your business has likely gone through many changes and challenges over the past two years.

There are many government-backed financial schemes available to support businesses as they recover and reset and it makes sense to check your eligibility by looking into the schemes covered in this article, by contacting your Local Enterprise Office or visiting Enterprise Ireland’s website.

These supports can relieve some of the financial pressure for owners of small and medium businesses, allowing your business to recover and return to full capacity while managing current challenges and planning for 2022 and beyond.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in February 2022 and has been updated for relevance.

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