In light of the coronavirus situation, HBF has produced this resource page to provide members with links to helpful information, guidance and advice. We will update the below list when further information becomes available.
We are working closely with Government on a range of related issues to ensure members’ concerns are being factored into thinking as Government develops its response to the ongoing crisis. We are holding daily meetings with officials from a range of Government departments; and regular calls with members and member groups to ensure we are acting as an effective conduit between Government and industry. We are also engaging with a broad range of other stakeholders including Homes England, the Bank, utility providers, materials suppliers and Local Authorities.
We have committed to providing Government with a range of information and statistics about how the crisis is impacting the industry and will be contacting members accordingly. Please provide any information or comments to HBF’s Policy Director, David O’Leary: email@example.com.
Support for businesses
It’s been acknowledged by Government that the disruption caused by coronavirus will have an impact on businesses. To help mitigate these impacts, it has announced a range of measures to support companies through this period. A summary can be found below but full details can be found at https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-support/
Under the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers with a PAYE scheme will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis. This applies to employees who have been asked to stop working, but who are being kept on the pay roll, otherwise described as ‘furloughed workers’. HMRC will reimburse 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 per month. This is to safeguard workers from being made redundant. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will cover the cost of wages backdated to March 1st and is initially open for 3 months, but will be extended if necessary.
Full Government guidance on the operation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme can be found here.
This scheme will help businesses affected by coronavirus to access bank lending and overdrafts if they need to. For loans up to £5 million, the Government is providing a guarantee of 80% for each loan. This will give lenders the confidence to continue to provide finance to businesses. The Government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee.
The new Covid-19 Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF) means that the Bank of England will buy short-term debt from larger companies. This will support companies which are fundamentally strong, but have been affected by a short-term funding squeeze. It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms. The scheme will be funded by central bank reserves – in line with other Bank of England market operations. It will operate for at least 12 months, and for as long as steps are needed to relieve cash flow pressures on firms that make a material contribution to the UK economy.
The Government will bring forward legislation to allow small and medium-sized businesses to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for staff sickness absence due to coronavirus. This refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of coronavirus.
All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities.
Businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors in England will not have to pay business rates for the 2020-21 tax year. Businesses that received the retail discount in the 2019-20 tax year will be rebilled by their local authority as soon as possible.
The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) whose income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The scheme will provide a grant to self-employed individuals or partnerships, worth 80% of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month.
HMRC will use the average profits from tax returns in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 to calculate the size of the grant. The scheme will be open to those where the majority of their income comes from self-employment and who have profits of less than £50,000. The scheme will be open for an initial three months with people able to make their first claim by the beginning of June.
Full guidance can be found here.
Government guidance on home moving
The Government has published guidance on the approach that should be taken for home moving during the ‘stay-at-home period’.
The advice, developed with Public Health England, clarifies statements made by ministers and others in recent days, and urges flexibility where possible. The advice states ‘there is no need to pull out of transactions’ and, of significance to home builders, the document says:
‘Where the property is vacant, then you can continue with this transaction although you should follow the guidance in this document on home removals’.
This is emphasised by clear advice to conveyancers that they should:
‘continue to support the sales of unoccupied properties as far as possible’
Government urges all parties in housing transactions to be flexible and alter usual processes in order to manage and sustain transactions and stresses that public health must be the priority.
The document, drawn up after numerous discussions in recent days between HBF, government, lenders and legal representatives, confirms the position of lenders that they will try to find ways to extend mortgage offers where delays to completions are unavoidable. It also advises conveyancers that they should continue to support the sales of unoccupied properties as far as possible.
For surveyors and removals firms, Government advises that current guidance states that work carried out on people’s homes can continue provided those conducting the work are well and displaying no symptoms.
In addition to the Government guidance, a group of organisations representing legal practitioners and with support from government departments have subsequently published guidance for conveyancers on the processing of housing transactions during the coronavirus crisis. Further information can be found in our briefing for members.
Advice for employers
The Government has produced, and is regularly updating, guidance for employers on issues relating to coronavirus including symptoms, Statutory Sick Pay (SSP), certifying absence from work, limiting the spread and what to do if an employee needs time off to look after a dependent.
Public Health England has produced a poster for employers to share with colleagues which provides advice on what to do if someone displays symptoms of coronavirus and how to halt the spread of the virus.
Acas, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, have also produced a comprehensive guide for employers regarding coronavirus. It covers a number of topics including sick pay, annual leave and best practice.
Site operating procedures
The Construction Leadership Council, working with the Construction Coronavirus Taskforce, has developed guidance – Advice on temporary suspension of sites – to ensure that any closures can be achieved as safely as possible, avoiding potential issues while the site is not active.
The Construction Products Association (CPA) has provided an update on the status and response of its members to coronavirus.
Remediation and coronavirus: Building safety
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published guidance on remediation and building safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
It states that “making buildings safe, including progressing the remediation of high-rise buildings with unsafe cladding” remains a government priority and that this work is “critical to public safety”.
The remainder of the guidance provides advice to the construction industry on how to continue working during this period to remediate buildings in a way that is consistent with PHE guidelines.
Training and apprenticeship implications
CITB is making available advanced payment of apprenticeship attendance grants for second and third-year apprentices to help keep skills within the construction industry amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The payments will be available from 6 April for apprentices already subject to CITB grant support and who are currently in the second or third year of their apprenticeship for the remainder of the year.
They will support 7,500 apprentices, and will advance to employers up to £2,500 in attendance grant at a time when retaining apprentices is critical.
Further information on what CITB is doing to support construction employers through the coronavirus crisis is available here
Meanwhile, the government has published guidance for apprentices, employers, training providers, and assessment organisations.
The guidance, by the Education and Skills Funding Agency, provides details on:
- encouraging training providers to deliver training to apprentices remotely, and via e-learning, as far as is practicable;
- allowing the modification of end-point assessment arrangements, including remote assessments wherever practicable and possible;
- clarifying that apprentices ready for assessment, but who cannot be assessed due to coronavirus issues, can have their end-point assessment rescheduled;
- apprentices whose gateway is delayed can have an extension to the assessment time frame;
- enabling employers and training providers to report and initiate a break in learning, where the interruption to learning due to coronavirus is greater than four weeks;
- clarification on how to record breaks in learning so that funding is not unnecessarily disrupted; and
- confirming that, where apprentices are made redundant, it is our ambition to find them alternative employment and continue their apprenticeship as quickly as possible and within 12 weeks.
CITB has developed a free app so that employers can run their own in-house interim testing. The app will give employers a level of local assurance to help them determine if an employee is safe to work on their site.
The app will be available to download from app stores shortly. A PC download version is available here, under the HS&E Test heading.
The app will give breathing space to employers during the temporary closure of all Pearson Vue HS&E test centres and the suspension of testing throughout our Independent Test Centre (ITC) network.
Advice for employees
If an employee has questions about coronavirus in relation to their employment, you may wish to direct them to the Government guidance.
Tips for working from home
In light of recent Government advice, many more of us are now working at home. The BBC has produced a guide advising “Five ways to work well from home”, to help people work efficiently and keep their spirits up.
From a health and safety perspective, the HSE has published guidance for employers on protecting home workers – read it here.
HBF’s Home Building Skills Partnership have also produced a light-hearted list of their ‘top tips’ which you may find useful to share with staff:
- You can get up later (a positive), but don’t sit in your pyjamas all day, get dressed and decent for the day, make a new routine otherwise everything merges into one (obviously you do all have to have a pyjama day at least once to say you have done it)
Many of you will have gained an hour or more back in the day that you would have spent travelling – do something proactive and positive with that time, don’t just extend your laptop time – exercise is the obvious, but you could do one of those little jobs you never get around to doing e.g. clean out a cupboard, tidy the garage, be creative – get to the end of this crisis with something extra!
- Set yourself times to do other short tasks (5 mins) throughout the working day – e.g. washing up, walking dog – rather than do it all before you start work (as you would if you were leaving the house) otherwise you will burn out by lunchtime. You can also set yourself a target time for a coffee/tea break. If you are not alone at home, you can also be clear these are the moments you can be interrupted.
Linked to above – get up at regular intervals – you will be amazed how few steps you do unless you force yourself. Wear your Fitbit if you have one.
Some people find background noise helps but this is a personal choice as others hate it. If you do have the radio on, keep it close to you so you can turn it off during phone calls.
This is one that really surprised us, how many people think working from home means ‘available for them’! Explain to whoever you need to when you are available and stick to it.
A distraction and very tempting! So, either keep it empty or make them rewards for completing a piece of work or similar.
Take a proper break and do something else – try not to watch Loose Women...
You do have to be more structured in your approach than a face to face meeting, so that means prepare well beforehand and its near impossible to ‘pop out to the loo’.
We phone each other frequently, sometimes it’s not about work, it’s just to have a five minute catch up to ease frustration and makes you feel like a team. Microsoft Teams also has a type of ‘WhatsApp’ function so why not set up a group chat with those you normally talk to in the office.
Shut the door or tidy the space away. If you have to work in one of your main living spaces, tidy your laptop and work away – if you spend the evening looking at your laptop and work papers spread about it means you never switch off (really important if you are working in your bedroom, waking up to look at the pile of work you didn’t finish the day before is not good for your mental health).
you can fit in the small chores during the day - prep your evening meal, pay a bill and also put washing in the machine.
Mental health and wellbeing
The uncertainty and disruption being caused by coronavirus has the potential to take its toll on our mental health, particularly for those already living with conditions like anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Consequently, it’s vital that we all take steps to protect our mental health. The Mental Health Foundation has produced some helpful advice as has the World Health Organization. Guides on looking after your mental wellbeing while staying at home and for dealing with worry regarding coronavirus can also be found on the NHS website.
People working in construction (and their families) are also able to seek advice from Lighthouse Club, the construction industry charity. Further information can be found at https://www.lighthouseclub.org/.
Other useful sources of information
CITB have outlined what they are doing to support construction employers through the coronavirus crisis and beyond. The guidance provides information in relation to: apprenticeships, grants, HS&E test, funding and more.
Further detail can be found on their website.