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25 September 2020

Covid-19 and urgent items update

This week's news


Wearing of face coverings in retail environments

Following the Prime Minister's announcements on 22 September, the College of Optometrists has issued a recommendation that optical practices should comply with the general requirement for all staff to wear fluid-resistant surgical face masks from now on, even when they are working behind a screen. The Association of British Dispensing Opticians takes the same view. 

The recommendation applies in all four UK nations.

FODO also concurs. It is essential, in public health terms, to maintain the public's rightfully high confidence in the safety of optical practices.

We will continue to keep you updated as recommendations and guidance develop and will work through OFNC, OW, OS and ONI to ensure that NHS supplies of face masks keep pace with increased demand.

For further information, please contact [email protected]   


Scotland - wearing of face masks in care homes and hospitals

The Scottish government has updated its interim guidance on the extended use of face masks in hospitals and care homes.

In brief, the guidance states that: 

  • Staff providing direct care should wear a Fluid Resistant (Type IIR) surgical mask at all times throughout their shift. This includes in primary care (general practices, dentists, opticians and pharmacies) and broader community care (including adult social or community care and adult residential settings, adult care-home settings and domiciliary care).
  • Healthcare staff should use their professional judgement and undertake a risk assessment whenever they have to remove the face mask for a short period. People must also ensure it is safe to do so - for example, when the person they are supporting/caring for is showing signs of distress, or to communicate with a person who lip-reads. Where face masks are not worn, it's essential to carry out two-metre physical distancing and consider the space in which the communication can take place, such as a well-ventilated room. Where bodily fluid contamination is anticipated, staff should wear a face visor as well as a face mask.
  • Any other non-clinical staff members should also wear a Type IIR surgical mask if they enter an area where direct care is undertaken. In other areas, all staff should wear masks/face coverings.
  • At present, the national stockpile is supplying and delivering these masks via NHS National Services Scotland (NSS).


Practitioners at work proving positive for Covid-19

As optical practices are now seeing more patients face-to-face and underlying infection rate numbers rise, it is possible that more optical staff will find they have developed symptoms of Covid-19 at work and will prove positive on being tested.

NHS England has advised that, where a member of NHS staff tests positive for coronavirus, the starting point is that the Test and Trace self-isolation rules apply as anywhere else. Close contacts must self-isolate if the NHS test and trace service advises them to do so. However, close contacts for the isolating practitioner exclude circumstances where PPE is being worn under current guidance on infection, prevention and control - read the NHS England letter.

In other circumstances, i.e. where a member of staff has come into contact outside work with someone who has subsequently tested positive for coronavirus, NHS staff are subject to the same test and trace protocols as all other members of the public. If a healthcare professional or another member of the team is contacted by the Test and Trace service and advised to self-isolate for 14 days, they must do so.    


Test and trace in England - costs of testing asymptomatic staff may fall on business

The Financial Times reported on 22 September that Baroness Dido Harding, head of the government's test-and-trace programme, has suggested rapid coronavirus tests might be a "business and consumer product" for symptom-free people, i.e. businesses would have to meet costs for symptom-free staff.

Speaking to the CBI on 21 September, Baroness Harding said that, while people with symptoms would always have recourse to testing on the NHS, speedy tests for those without symptoms might be part of "the cost of business" for companies.

The Department of Health and Social Care said: "We are investing in new, faster tests to be available to the public, for free, through NHS Test and Trace for those who need it. Deploying the next generation of tests, which may reduce the need for social distancing in specific circumstances, will require collaboration between businesses, government and the NHS. We continue to explore these options."


Financial support for business - Winter Economy Plan

As furlough comes to an end in October, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has announced new financial measures to help preserve employment and to support UK businesses - the Winter Economy Plan. The key elements are: 

Job Support Scheme

From 1 November, a new Job Support Scheme will be introduced for six months to protect viable jobs in businesses facing lower demand and to help retain the workforce. Employers will continue to pay the wages of staff for the hours they work - but for hours not done. The government and the employer will each pay one-third of their equivalent salary. This means employees who can only go back to work on shorter time will still be paid for two-thirds of those hours they cannot work. In practical terms, the employer will pay for one-third of the lost hours, the government will pay one third, and the employee will lose one third.

Employees must be working at least 33% of their usual hours. The level of grant will be based on their regular salary, capped at £697.92 per month.

The Job Support Scheme will be open to all businesses across the UK even if they have not previously used the furlough scheme. Further guidance will be published in due course.

Large businesses will have to meet a financial assessment test, so the scheme is only available to those whose turnover is lower now than before experiencing difficulties from Covid-19. There will be no financial assessment test for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The Job Support Scheme sits alongside the Jobs Retention Bonus, potentially worth over 60% of the average wages of workers who employers put on furlough and kept on until the start of February 2021.

Businesses can benefit from both schemes to help protect jobs.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant

The government is also extending SEISS. It will provide an initial taxable grant to those who are currently eligible for SEISS and are continuing to trade actively but face reduced demand due to coronavirus.

The initial lump sum will cover three months' worth of profits for the period from November to the end of January 2021. It will be worth 20% of average monthly profits, up to a total of £1,875.

An additional second grant, which may be adjusted to respond to changing circumstances, will be available for self-employed individuals to cover the period from February 2021 to end April 2021.

Tax cuts and deferrals

The VAT deferral New Payment Scheme will give businesses that deferred their VAT bills the option to pay back in smaller instalments. Rather than paying a lump sum in full at the end of March 2021, businesses will be able to make 11 smaller interest-free payments during the 2021-22 financial year.

Self-assessment taxpayers can benefit from a separate additional 12-month extension from HMRC on the ‘Time to Pay' self-service facility. This means they will not need to pay payments deferred from July 2020, and those due in January 2021 until January 2022.

Flexibility for businesses to pay back loans

Businesses that took out a Bounce Back Loan will have the flexibility to repay the loan through a new Pay as You Grow flexible repayment system. This includes extending the length of the loan from six to ten years, which will cut monthly repayments by nearly half. Interest-only periods of up to six months and payment holidays will also be available.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme lenders can also extend the length of loans from a maximum of six to ten years if it helps businesses to repay the loan.

Applications for the government's coronavirus loan schemes - the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme, the Bounce Back Loan Scheme and the Future Fund- can now be made until the end of November.


Budget and Comprehensive Spending Review 

The government has suspended the planned autumn Budget owing to the ongoing Covid crisis. No official announcement has been made (at time of writing) as to whether the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) will take place this Autumn as a multi-year review setting out departmental budgets for the remainder of this Parliament or will be replaced by a stopgap review to address next year only.  


1 October 2020 VAT changes for opticians

HMRC has announced changes to the processes for VAT accounting for optical products and dispensing services with effect from 1 October 2020:

  • Separately disclosed charges (SDC) method. Currently, there is no uniform standard of evidence to be provided to show that the method is being used. In future, all that will be required are copies of till receipts or similar evidence which demonstrate that two separate charges are being made to the patient at the time of supply and that this information is conveyed to them.
  • Full cost apportionment (FCA) method. Going forward, practices and businesses will no longer have to seek prior approval from HMRC before operating a method. As this is a high risk to providers, practices are advised to take appropriate tax advice before designing and using an FCA method.

FODO led a consultation with the sector with assistance from our VAT adviser, Shaun King Associates. HMRC announced the changes on 23 September 2020 to be implemented with effect from 1 October 2020. Read the full guidance.

Thanks to FODO's insistence, the worked example of the FCA method in existing HMRC guidance has been retained as a guide for businesses to work from, even though each business is different and each FCA must be calculated according to individual circumstances.

For further information, please contact [email protected]        

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