Note: COSBOA is a peak body (non-government organisation) that advocates for the needs of small business. Our members are industry associations. We cannot provide assistance or advice to individual small business owners - this page is only intended to point you to the official sources of information.
Updated 8 December 2020
COVID-19 SMALL BUSINESS QUICK LINKS TO GET HELP
If you don’t have time to analyse the information, here’s the summary and the direct links to get the best information and help quickly.
For more information ring the Federal Government Business Help Hotline 13 28 46 (open 7 days 7am to 11pm) or your association. There is also the option to send an email at business.gov.au/email-us.
Assistance is available for self-employed, small business people who:
Are sole traders and don’t employ anyone,
What's on this page? Quick reference guide below
For sole traders
Complying with COVID-19 Safety Regulations
As you know, being COVID-safe is very important to avoid more of Australia going into lockdown and the subsequent negative impacts on small businesses.
The regulations change in response to the severity of the pandemic and vary from state to state so we recommend having a look at your state government's website to see what you have to do. If you see the term "PCBU" on any of these sites, it means employer.
What to do if your business is linked to a case of COVID - info from the NSW Government
COVID Safe check-in communications pack for businesses - NSW Government
Three types of public health alert - toolkit from the NSW Government (very useful for NSW organisations that communicate with the public)
Until 27 September 2020, sole traders can access the JobKeeper Payment of $1500 per fortnight where they have suffered or expect to suffer a 30% decline in turnover relative to a comparable prior period (at least a month). After 27 September the payment will be reduced and you will also need to reassess your eligibility. The program is now set to expire in March 2021.
Treasury fact sheet on JK extension here. (Updated 7 August).
Treasury fact sheet for sole traders here (updated 9 June).
There's also a step-by-step video here.
Sole traders/self-employed people now have access to the social security system, specifically the Job Seeker or Youth AIlowance. You can receive a $550 fortnightly Coronavirus supplement until 24 September 2020 and then a $250 supplement from 24 September until 31 December.
Until 24 September, you can earn up to $1,000 a fortnight before the payment cuts out. Assets tests and other restrictions have been removed.
Information about changes to the Coronavirus supplement here.
Keeping staff employed (JobKeeper)
Update 21 July: The payment will now be extended until 28 March 2021 but at a reduced rate after 27 September 2020. You will also be required to reassess your eligibility. Treasury fact sheet on the extension here (updated 7 August)
If your turnover has been reduced by more than 30 per cent relative to a comparable period a year ago, you can access the JobKeeper Payment of $1500 per fortnight per eligible employee for up to 6 months.
Eligible employees must have been on your books on 1 March 2020. This includes full-time, part-time, and stood down employees, as well as casuals who have been working for you regularly for at least the past 12 months. After 3 August, employees who were on your books on 1 July 2020 will also be eligible.
Treasury fact sheet here (updated 7 August).
FAQs here (updated 9 June).
Video guide by the ATO here.
There is a 50% wage subsidy on each apprentice or trainee up to $7,000 per quarter (max $21,000) from January to September. If you still can’t manage, the subsidy is available to the new employer and is only available for businesses with less than 20 FT employees.
Apply from April to December. More info available from an Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) provider.
Generalised government info here.
How can I help my staff if they must be stood down?
You can receive the JobKeeper Payment for employees that have been stood down if they were on your books on 1 July 2020. The payment is $1500 per employee until 27 September 2020 and will change after this date (see fact sheet below for changes).
Treasury fact sheet about the JobKeeper Payment here (updated 7 August).
Apply through the ATO here.
The Fair Work Ombudsman's website has template letters for standing down employees if you are using JobKeeper and if you are not using JobKeeper.
Staff that are stood down or made redundant or must care for someone who has contracted Coronavirus can access Job Seeker or Youth allowances and can also access the $550 a fortnight supplement. (Update 21 July: this supplement will be reduced to $250 per fortnight from 24 September - 31 December and end on 31 December. Some of the simplifcations outlined below will also change after 24 September. See here for more info).
Simplified application process. Income testing still applies but asset testing has been waived for now. Waiting time is reduced to a week. The Liquid Asset Test Waiting Period (LAWP) and the Seasonal Work Preclusion Period (SWPP) will also be waived for recipients eligible for the Coronavirus supplement. Many other conditions have been removed/waived to streamline applications.
If staff or self-employed people/sole traders are accessing leave entitlements or Income Protection Insurance, they are excluded.
Access by a phone call or online application. Rent assistance and energy supplements may also be available. There are measures to detect fraud, and penalties, including imprisonment may apply. These start on 27 April and the expected funding is $14.1 b.
The Fair Work Ombudsman has a page that clarifies the rules, being
if there was an enforceable government direction requiring the business to close (which means there is no work at all for the employees to do, even from another location)
if a large proportion of the workforce was required to self-quarantine with the result that the remaining employees/workforce cannot usefully be employed
if there was a stoppage of work due to lack of supply for which the employer could not be held responsible.
There’s a lot more to consider, and other options may also be
seeking employees’ agreement to take paid (or unpaid) leave for a period
in limited circumstances, directing employees to take paid annual leave
in limited circumstances, negotiating with employees to change regular rosters or hours of work
terminating the employment of the employees, in which case the employer may have to provide redundancy pay. See What if an employer needs to let employees go?
If you have other questions or concerns about industrial relations, visit the Fair Work Ombudsman's website.
What do I do if one of my staff members is sick or required to isolate?
The advice of the Fair Work Ombudsman is that if an employee is sick you should tell them not to come to work and tell them that they should seek urgent medical advice. You can ask them to work from home if it is possible and they are well enough to do so. More info here.
In Victoria, workers diagnosed with COVID-19 or who are a close contact of a known case may be eligible for a one-off payment of $1500. As of 23 July they may also be eligible for a one-off payment of $300 while waiting for test results. As an employer, you don't have to do anything - the payment is made directly from the Victorian Government to the employee. More info here.
Nationally, some awards now also include unpaid Pandemic Leave that employees can access if they have been required to self-isolate by authories or on the advice of their doctor. In some circumstances they can also take twice as much annual leave but on half pay.
More info on the Fair Work Ombudsman's website.
What do I do if a staff member on JobKeeper won't come to work?
According to the Fair Work Ombudsman's website, if the employee is being asked to work their usual hours, isn't on leave, doesn't have a reasonable concern about their health or safety, and your business is complying with safety regulations, then the employee has to come to work. If they refuse to return to work you can take disciplinary action like ending their employment, providing you follow all the normal rules to avoid unfair dismissal.
Advice on directing people to work can be found on the Fair Work Ombudsman's (FWO) website.
Info on ending employment here.
FWO also has a Workplace Legal Advice Program which you may be eligible for. Info here.
JobMaker Hiring Credit
Subject to eligibility criteria, employers may receive a credit for new employees hired before 6 October 2021 for the first 12 months of their employment. Eligible employers can receive up to $200 a week per eligible employee aged 16-29 and up to $100 per eligible employee aged 30-35. Register on the ATO's website.
Employer eligibility factsheet here.
Employee factsheet here.
Factsheet for BAS/Tax agents here.
For businesses with less than $50m turnover the prior year, there is a tax free subsidy from $20,000 to $100,000 where you have employees.
It applies for the period March to September this year (2020).
It works with your BAS when you lodge your normal PAYG statement (monthly/quarterly).
The ATO will apply a credit against your account up to 100% of your PAYG payments. It appears that this means you make your payment less the credit.
Or you will receive a subsidy payment from the ATO if you have low income employees who pay no tax.
The amount you receive will depend on the size of your business.
The Commonwealth is supplying a 50% guarantee on new small business loans up to $250,000 for terms up to 3 years. Loans are available through your bank from 1 April 2020 until 30 September 2020. You don’t need to provide security and will not need to make repayments for the first 6 months.
If you're struggling to pay rent
A mandatory code of conduct for commercial tenancies was created on 7 April. It sets out 14 principles which include that landlords must not terminate leases for non payment of rent during the COVID-19 Pandemic (or reasonable recovery period), and that landlords must offer reductions in rent based on the tenant's reduction in trade. This code is enforced by state/ territory governments. See here for more info.
If you are still struggling to negotiate with your landlord, there is mediation available. This is free in most states and does not require you to go to court, hire lawyers, etc. You should contact your state small business commissioner or the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman for more information.
The ACT and Queensland governments are offering one-off rebates on electricity bills to small businesses that have electricity usages of below 100 megawatts per year. These will be automatically applied.
On 1 May, EnergyAustralia announced a Rapid Business Assist Program that can help you optimise your energy use and help with cash flow as it pertains to energy bills. See here for more info.
Some banks and lenders are deferring loan repayments for 6 months (until Septepmber 2020) for small businesses and home-owners needing help. Each bank will have different arrangements.
Generalised info here. Best phone contacts here.
Reducing the cost of credit
The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) announced a package on 19 March 2020 that will put downward pressure on borrowing costs for households and businesses. This will help mitigate the adverse consequences of the coronavirus on businesses and support their day-to-day trading operations. The RBA is supporting small businesses as a particular priority. The RBA has announced a term funding facility for the banking system. Banks will have access to at least $90 billion in funding at a fixed interest rate of 0.25 per cent. This will reinforce the benefits of a low cash rate by reducing funding costs for banks, which in turn will help reduce interest rates for borrowers. To encourage lending to businesses, the facility offers additional low-cost funding to banks if they expand their business lending, with particular incentives applying to new loans to SMEs. In addition, the RBA announced a further easing in monetary policy by reducing the cash rate to 0.25 per cent. It is also extending and complementing the interest rate cut by taking active steps to target a 0.25 per cent yield on 3-year Australian Government Securities.
$10k of super was available from April - June 2020. You can still apply for another $10K until 24 September 2020 if you’re unemployed, eligible for JobSeeker, Youth Allowance or several other benefits, your working hours or turnover are reduced by 20% or more, or you’re made redundant. These amounts accessed are tax free and do not affect other Centrelink payments. You have to apply through the ATO. Separate arrangements apply if you have a SMSF and guidance is available on the ATO website.
Any business assets you buy can be instantly written off against your tax. Now applies to purchases up to $150,000 (increased from $30,000) and has been extended until 31 December 2020.
The ATO has said it will offer tax relief to small businesses affected by the outbreak.
Commissioner of taxation Chris Jordan called on businesses to contact the ATO in order to access a tailored support plan.
Options include deferrals of payments, income tax assessments, temporary reduction of payments, and withholding of enforcement actions such as director penalty notices and wind-ups. Phone 1800 806 218 or visit their website here.
Temporary relief from creditors' demands against you plus temporary relief for your personal liability as a director while trading insolvent.
The federal government has temporarily raised the threshold for creditors to issue a statutory demand on a company from $2,000 to $20,000, for six months.
It has also increased the time allowed for a company to respond to statutory demands from 21 days to six months. This also applies for six months.
For individuals, the threshold for initiating bankruptcy proceedings has increased from $5,000 to $20,000, and the time allowed for an individual to respond has increased from 21 days to six months. Again, this applies for six months.
The government is also offering temporary relief for directors from personal liability for trading while insolvent, for six months.
The government has made $1b available to support regions, industries and communities that suffer significantly. This will see some government fees waived and recovery plans developed. This includes additional support for the aviation industry of $175m. The ATO will administer this assistance.
There are many resources to help you look after your mental health. Reach out to others if you’re not coping and ask for help.
The My Business Health website is designed for the needs of small business owners and supported widely by industry and health providers and the Government. More information here.
On 29 March the Prime Minister announced there would be a $1.1B boost for mental health, domestic violence, Medicare and emergency food relief.
This includes $150M for domestic, family and sexual violence due to 75% increase in demand caused by Coronavirus related stressors.
Mental Health support of $74M using online programs, go to Head to Health, and communications campaigns, support programs, and a raft of other specific measures.
$200M for charities to provide emergency food relief, debt assistance, financial training and expanding the No Interest Loan Scheme as an alternative to high risk, high interest products such as credit cards and payday loans.
On 6 April the Australian Cybersecurity Centre published a guide to protecting your small business during the COVID-19 pandemic. Read it here.
Connectivity and the NBN
On 17 April nbn announced a $150M relief and assistance package that targets small to medium sized businesses as well as low-income households and essential health services. Read more here.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has provided official advice on legal obligations and rights of businesses and consumers.
Go to Australia.gov.au for more information about responding to COVID-19.