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COVID-19: One-year business rate suspension for pharmacies in GB

Business rate “holidays” have been extended to all retailers to support companies dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced.

Business rates had already been abolished for 12 months for small companies in England with a rateable value of less than £51,000 as part of the budget announcement last week (March 11).

On Tuesday (March 17), Mr Sunak extended the measure to all businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors “irrespective of their rateable value” to help them during what he called a “public health [and]…an economic emergency”.

The Welsh and Scottish governments matched the measures in England to exempt all retailers from paying these taxes for one year, while in Northern Ireland, all businesses will be granted business rate relief for three months.

Those with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will be given a grant of up to £25,000 “to help bridge through this period”, Mr Sunak added. The Scottish and Welsh governments also pledged to support small businesses by issuing the same grant.

The Treasury told C+D more details on the business rate relief will be published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government this week.

Access to loans

As part of an “unprecedented package of government-backed and guaranteed loans”, businesses will have access to an initial £330bn of loan guarantees, the chancellor said.

The loans are for any business needing “access to cash to pay their rent, salaries, suppliers, or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan”, he said.

“Local authorities in England will be fully compensated for the costs of these measures, and the devolved administrations will receive at least £3.5bn in additional funding as a result, to provide support to businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,” Mr Sunak added.

Further targeted support

Lloydspharmacy’s parent company McKesson UK welcomed the “package of measures” announced by the chancellor, a spokesperson told C+D on Tuesday.

“The business rates relief will support not just Lloydspharmacy, but also our many AAH [Pharmaceuticals]customers,” the spokesperson said.

“However, we hope to see further targeted support from government to ensure community pharmacy can continue to play a key role in providing community healthcare during this period.”

The spokesperson added that McKesson UK – which has called on the government to reimburse pharmacies for their business rates several times – will continue to “campaign for a fair business rates regime”.

Boots’ director of pharmacy Richard Bradley told C+D today (March 19) that the multiple “welcomes the rates holiday announced earlier this week to support businesses during these extremely challenging times”.

“These are unprecedented times and it’s important that we all support each other…help those that are most vulnerable and follow the guidance from the health authorities.”

IR35 delay

On Tuesday , chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay announced that the introduction of the IR35 tax reform – also known as “off-payroll working” – will be postponed to April 6 2021, to alleviate the burden on businesses dealing with the spread of COVID-19.

The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMp) CEO Leyla Hannbeck told C+D that she welcomed the government’s decision to delay the rollout of the IR35 tax changes, which were initially expected to come into force next month.

Ms Hannbeck sent a letter to the Treasury last month in which she warned of the impact IR35 could have on the pharmacy sector. Earlier this month, Ms Hannbeck attended a roundtable meeting chaired by financial secretary Jesse Norman to discuss the sectors’ concerns over the implementation of IR35.

“The pharmacy sector, as frontline healthcare provider, needs the workforce now more than ever and the new rules…would have been very difficult for the sector to cope with during these difficult times.

“Although this is only a delay, it is welcome and will allow us to continue working with the Treasury and HMRC to ensure relevant plans are in place.”

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