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Five things pharmacies need to know about the budget

The government has announced its spending plans for the year ahead, with a focus on small businesses and statutory sick pay for those affected by coronavirus.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the budget for the upcoming year on Wednesday (March 11), but how does it impact the community pharmacy sector?

The budget “takes place against the backdrop of the global outbreak of COVID-19”, and will therefore aim to support public services, individuals and businesses affected, the government said.

1. Business rates abolished

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, business rates have been abolished for properties with a rateable value of less than £51,000.

When asked whether small community pharmacies will be eligible for the scheme, the treasury told C+D that queries regarding eligibility “should be directed to the relevant local authority”.

Business rates for pharmacies were a source of contention prior to the coronavirus outbreak. Last year, the National Pharmacy Association and the Company Chemists’ Association separately called for business rates reform.

2. Sick pay for self-isolation

To help mitigate the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak, statutory sick pay will be paid to employees from day one, rather than day four, prime minister Boris Johnson announced last week (March 4).

Presenting the budget to parliament on Wednesday, the chancellor declared that statutory sick pay will also be paid to people who are advised to self-isolate, “even if they haven’t yet presented with symptoms”.

3. Footing the sick pay bill

The “cumulative cost” of sick pay for those unable to work will “hit small and medium-size businesses hard”, Mr Sunak said.

In “recognition of these exceptional circumstances”, the government will – for businesses with fewer than 250 employees – refund the cost of providing statutory sick pay to any employee off work for up to 14 days due to coronavirus.

The chancellor said this will “significantly ease the burden on businesses”.

4. Coronavirus loan scheme

In his budget speech, Mr Sunak announced a “temporary coronavirus business interruption loan scheme”.

The scheme will “support loans of up to £1.2 million in value” for small and medium-sized businesses, according to the budget.

The government will “offer a generous guarantee” on the loans, covering “up to 80% of losses with no fees” so that banks can lend with confidence, the chancellor said.

5. Cash grants

Any business eligible for small business rates relief will also receive a £3,000 cash grant, the chancellor outlined.

Small business rates relief is available to businesses that only use one property and where the rateable value is lower than £15,000. However, some businesses with more than one property may be able to get relief. Full details are available on the government’s website.

As part of the coronavirus response, there will also be a “dedicated helpline for those who need a deferral period on their tax liabilities”, according to the budget.

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