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100 days on: Brexit still challenging traders, but Support Fund offers hope

Despite 100 days passing since the end of the Brexit transition period, official figures reveal that international trade has yet to recover.

But why?

In this blog, we’re going to explore what challenges businesses are facing, and how they can overcome them.

How is international trade faring?

According to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), four in 10 (41 per cent) exporters reported “decreased export sales” in the first three months of 2021, compared to just two in 10 (20 per cent) who reported “increased export sales”.

These figures remain largely consistent across each sector, including the important production, manufacturing, and construction industries.

Likewise, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that international trade has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, with January recording historically low trading activity.

What are the key challenges?

Research shows that most small businesses who traded internationally before Brexit did so only with the EU. It means that few were prepared for the new rules and processes already in place for the rest of the world – and now also the EU.

For example, if a new business were to start trading with the EU today, it would need to understand how tariffs and the rules of origin work, how to register for an Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number, how import and export taxes work, how to register for VAT in a different country, how to certify certain goods (such as animal products), and how the Northern Ireland trade agreement operates.

What is the solution?

Without specialist advice and support, international trade can seem daunting to newcomers. Fortunately, there is help out there to support businesses who wish to sell their goods and services overseas.

This includes the new SME Brexit Support Fund. Under the £20 million scheme, businesses can claim up to £2,000 in grant funding to spend on professional advice – including accountant’s fees!

The cash can be spent on advice relating to a range of topics, including all of those mentioned above.

Get expert advice today

For help and advice with related matters, please get in touch with our expert Brexit advisory team today.


Homeworking

Over the past year, an area of expansion in businesses worldwide has been homeworking. In March 2020, we were told by our government to work from home if possible and over a year later this remains the overarching message. Like any aspect of business, there are pros and cons to remote working for employers and employees alike. A large benefit for businesses is the reduction in overhead costs caused by absence from the office, as well as increased productivity among staff. For employees, many have saved time and money through their lack of commute and have noticed an improved work-life balance as a consequence. Employers have become more flexible, and many have decided to implement a hybrid way of working between the office and home going forward. Some of the drawbacks to home working include a loss of control, lack of space for some to work in their home, an issue surrounding data protection and the need for greater levels of trust. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure those working remotely have a satisfactory homeworking set up and are able to do their job well from home.

It is important to have a homeworking policy or agreement in place so there is no ambiguity surrounding the topic. Therefore, employees are aware if the conditions of their remote working and can carry out their role effectively. Furthermore, employment contracts may need to be updated to reflect the changes in working; especially if an employee’s principal place of work is their home or the employer’s premises. It is also important to stipulate whether expenses for things like electricity hearting and technology is covered by you or the employee. You will also need to decide how to performance manage remotely and ensure that all employees are aware of what is expected and required of them. Homeworking or hybrid working can work brilliantly for businesses when managed correctly and greater flexibility in the workplace is growing as a result of the pandemic.


Compulsory Testing

Employers may consider internal coronavirus testing programmes in order to manage the workforce risk in the office, to put employees’ minds at rest, or to ensure staff return to work as soon as possible. With this in mind, there are many factors for employers when considering testing for employees; this includes the costs and type of the testing, the UK government scheme, how to process the data, employee refusal to take the test, as well as overall COVID-19 secure procedures and risk management. Although testing is becoming more readily available, the working from home guidance and COVID-19 protective measures in the workplace set out by the Government must still be followed by employers. As an employer, you must focus on the following aspects in relation to the pandemic, vaccinations and testing:

  • Communicate: Make sure you communicate with employees at every stage, so they know where they stand, and which Government guidelines affect them.
  • Be Understanding: Everybody has had different emotions and experiences during the past year and may understandably be anxious; try to understand any concerns they have and do you best to alleviate any concerns.
  • Be up to date: Educate and inform yourself and your employees on any developments so that you know what steps you need to take in order to be compliant with guidelines.
  • Be flexible: Be more open to flexible working requests and consider homeworking or hybrid working as a viable option for your business.

You cannot force employee’s to be tested or vaccinated for COVID-19; the Government has not made vaccination mandatory for the population.


Diary Dates

10th May – 16th May

Mental Health Awareness Week – The 2021 theme is nature and the environment, focusing on the mental health benefits of the natural world.

From 17th May

Proposed further easing of restrictions following lockdown – outdoor events will be allowed, indoor entertainment will open, and larger gatherings will be allowed.

National Walking Month – This is an incentive throughout the month of May to encourage people to get outside and incorporate movement to their everyday routine. Exercise and fresh air are essential for maintaining physical and mental wellbeing.


Case in Focus

Miss J Singh v Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust – 2016

What happened?

The Claimant had been working the nightshift for a number years when family responsibilities meant that she needed to change her work pattern in order to work during the day. She put in a flexible working request which was refused. The Claimant’s argument was that it was unjust to have her request for flexible working refused, because the night shifts could be accommodated by other workers through covering the night shifts she had previously worked. Miss Singh claimed that the Respondent failed to follow the correct procedure and that the reason for refusal of her application for flexible working was factually incorrect.

The Hearings

The appeal was dismissed on the basis that an employer is not bound in law to accept a request for flexible working. What the employer must do, among other things, is base any refusal of such a request on correct facts. In this case, the EAT had to consider the adequacy of the Tribunal’s reasoning. The EAT concluded that the Tribunal had done just enough to acquaint the Claimant with why she had lost the argument and why she had failed to show an incorrect factual basis for the decision to refuse her request.

Take away points:

  • Having a flexible working policy will remove ambiguity of employees and show the correct way to submit a request, including the accurate time scales and potential outcomes. This should be included as part of your employee handbook, which should be accessible to all members of staff.
  • Due to the pandemic, businesses are experiencing a surge in flexible working requests, therefore communication is key, and employers should seek to accommodate requests where possible and in the best interests of the business.

Ask the Experts

Do we have to offer workplace testing?

As an employer, you are under no obligation to offer COVID-19 testing to staff, however the Government have emphasised that employers should be regularly testing their staff and are encouraging this. Free rapid tests are available for asymptomatic staff to take; anyone with symptoms should order a PCR test and remain at home. Employees should notify their employer and the NHS if they receive positive test result and then obtain a confirmatory PCR test.

Do I have to consider flexible working requests?

In April 2003, the UK Government introduced the ‘right to request flexible working’ which generally applied to parents and certain other carers. However, legislation now includes all employees with at least 26 weeks’ continuous employment, regardless of parental or caring responsibilities they may or may not have. Employers have a duty to consider a request in a reasonable manner and are only able to refuse a request for flexible working if they can show that one of a specific number of grounds apply.


Applications open for £2,000 post-Brexit import VAT advice

Applications are now open for the Government’s SME Brexit Support Fund, which offers grants for up to £2,000 that can be put towards the cost of professional advice on import VAT.

The end of the Brexit Transition period has changed the way businesses must account for VAT when importing from the EU and the new fund offers help to access advice on staying compliant following the changes.

Businesses are eligible for the fund if they:

  • have been established in the UK for at least 12 months before submitting an application or currently hold Authorised Economic Operator status;
  • have not failed to meet tax or customs obligations in the past;
  • have no more than 500 employees;
  • have turnover of no more than £100 million; and
  • import or export goods between Great Britain and the EU or between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

They must also meet one of the following conditions:

  • Complete (or intend to complete) import or export declarations for their own goods; or
  • Use someone else to complete import or export declarations but need additional capability to effectively import or export.

To apply, you will need to provide a quote for the proposed professional advice, the business name and address of your chosen professional advisor and details of the advice you wish to obtain.

Applications are open here.

The deadline for making an application is 30 June 2021 but could be earlier if all £20 million of available funding is allocated before then, so it is advisable to apply as soon as possible.

Please contact us today for a quote and details of the professional advice we can provide.