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What are the rules?

State aid rules are contained in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (previously referred to as the Treaty of Rome). The State aid rules prohibit the use of state resources, or any public support with an economic value, which given selectively has the capacity to distort trade by favouring certain undertakings, or the production of certain goods, and which has the potential to affect trade between Member States. Where aid is present it must not be granted unless it has been specifically approved in advance by the European Commission or benefits from a general exemption to the rules.

In general, the rules apply to all State actions which might assist businesses including:

  • Grants
  • “Soft” loans
  • Selling to business at an undervalue
  • Buying from business at an overvalue

Related FAQs

What payments can be included in the claim for a grant?

You can claim for regular payments you are obliged to pay staff such as non-discretionary overtime, non-discretionary fees, non-discretionary commission and piece-time payments. Overtime in this context is referred to as ‘past overtime’ in the updated guidance which would suggest that you should use the variable pay calculation (see FAQ above) for those who regularly carry out overtime.

Do I have to continue to pay furloughed staff while furloughed? Can I wait until I receive the money from the government?

To qualify for a grant under the scheme you must pay your furloughed staff the wages you are claiming for. Failure to do so may result in a HMRC investigation and/or claims from furloughed staff for unlawful deductions from wages and possibly constructive dismissal claims.

Normal benefits including non-monetary benefits should continue during furlough unless the individual has agreed in writing to reduce or remove a benefit during this time.

Employers are expected to apply for one or more of the financial support schemes available to be able to continue to pay staff.

Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme

The Coronavirus Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme will repay employers the SSP paid to current or former employees and will be available from 26 May 2020. See here.

The scheme covers all types of employment contracts and employers will be eligible to claim if they:

  • Are claiming for an employee who is eligible for sick pay due to coronavirus
  • Had a payroll scheme that was created and started on or before 28 February 2020
  • Had fewer than 250 employees on 28 February 2020

The repayment will cover up to 2 weeks starting from the first qualifying day of sickness, if an employee is unable to work because they either:

  • have coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms
  • cannot work because they are self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms
  • are shielding and have a letter from the NHS or a GP telling them to stay at home for at least 12 weeks
  • have been notified by the NHS or public health bodies that they’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus
  • they have been notified by the NHS to self-isolate before surgery

You can claim for periods of sickness starting on or after:

  • 13 March 2020 – if your employee had coronavirus or the symptoms or is self-isolating because someone they live with has symptoms; or
  • 16 April 2020 – if your employee was shielding because of coronavirus.
  • 28 May 2020 – if your employee has been notified by the NHS or public health bodies that they’ve come into contact with someone with coronavirus
  • 26 August 2020 – if your employee has been notified by the NHS to self-isolate before surgery

Employees do not have to give you a doctor’s fit note for you to make a claim. But you can ask them to give you either:

  • an isolation note from NHS 111 – if they are self-isolating and cannot work because of coronavirus
  • the NHS or GP letter telling them to stay at home for at least 12 weeks because they’re at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus
  • the evidence from the NHS or public health body requiring them to self-isolate

You must keep the following records in relation to a claim you make under the scheme for three years:

  • The reason for the employee’s absence
  • Details of each period the employee could not work, including start and end dates
  • Details of the SSP qualifying days when the employee could not work
  • National insurance numbers for each employee you have paid SSP to

You’ll need to print or save your state aid declaration (from your claim summary) and keep this until 31 December 2024.

What rules has the European Commission introduced?

The Commission has provided guidance as to measures which Member States can introduce without notification. These include:

  • Measures which apply to all businesses within a Member State (for example the furloughing measures introduced by the UK Government)
  • Measures providing support direct to consumers
  • Measures which are already exempt from the notification requirement (discussed further below).

To respond to the crisis the European Commission has also issued a temporary framework to provide a basis for emergency aid to be notified for approval. The framework is initially in place until 31 December 2020. The Commission continues to keep this under review and has twice widened its scope to allow more types of aid to be notified. The type of measures covered include:

  • The provision of guarantees (including guarantees for 100% of loans)
  • The provision of loans at low interest rates, at zero interest rates or subordinated to senior debt
  • Measures to support liquidity needs or to alleviate difficulties caused by the current crisis
  • Measures to recapitalise businesses
  • Measures to assist sectors hit particularly hard by the current crisis (eg transport)
  • Measures targeted at COVID-19 such as research and development or production of products related to tackling the virus

The Commission has approved a UK Government “umbrella” notification to allow UK public authorities to adopt the measures permitted by the Commission framework. Therefore public authorities in the UK can use the Framework without notifying individual measures or schemes to the Commission.

How do I make arrangements for end point assessments for apprentices?

Arrangements for end point assessments can be modified or rescheduled. End point assessment organisations should engage with External Quality Assurance Providers to agree arrangements for the end point assessments where face-to-face assessments are being modified. Where rescheduling is required due to Covid-19 issues and there is a specified time limit for the ESA post gateway, a further pause of 12 weeks is allowable. This should be recorded by the training provider in the ILR.