Weekly Digest – 15 December 2021

Welcome back to our Weekly Digest. Read on for the latest updates and some ideas to help us all move forward.

11 Countries Removed from the UK’s Red List

The government removed 11 countries on the UK red list from 4am Wednesday 15 December, following a review of the latest risk assessment from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Passengers returning from Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe will not have to stay in a managed quarantine hotel on arrival in England from this date.

Government Hikes COVID-19 Threat Level Due to Omicron Variant

The UK government raised the country’s official coronavirus threat level on Sunday, due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. They recommended raising the alert level from 3 to 4 on a 5-point scale. The top level, 5, indicates authorities think the health-care system is about to be overwhelmed.

Restrictions have been reintroduced, including the rule on mandatory wearing of masks in most indoor settings, people encouraged to work from home if possible, and vaccine certificates required to be shown to enter nightclubs.

The government aims to offer a booster shot to those who are 18 years old and above by the end of January.

Prove Your COVID-19 Status to Enter Venues and Events

On 15 December, if approved by Parliament, the COVID-19 rules on attending certain venues and events in England are changing.

From this date, to enter those venues and events, people aged 18 or above must either:

  • be fully vaccinated with 2 doses of an approved vaccine (or one of the single-dose Janssen vaccine)
  • have completed a negative PCR test or negative rapid lateral flow test within the past 48 hours, or
  • be exempt

Currently, you don’t need a booster to get an NHS COVID Pass. This guidance applies to England. Scotland and Wales operate their own mandatory certification schemes.

Job Vacancies Hit Record High

Job vacancies in the UK have hit a record high of 1.21 million for the quarter ending November, an increase of 434,500 from its pre-pandemic level, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Record job vacancies were reported in 13 of the 18 industry sectors.

Also, UK employers added 257,000 staff to their payrolls in November, even as the furlough scheme ended in September. As firms continued to take on more staff, the unemployment total fell by 127,000 in the August to October quarter, lowering the jobless total to 1.423 million.

The UK’s jobless rate was down to 4.2% in the October quarter, down from 4.3% in the previous month. These figures suggest that the labour market remained strong this autumn, even though firms can no longer use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to cover wages.

Restaurants and Pubs Fear 40% Cut in Christmas Earnings

Restaurants and pubs throughout the UK predict that Christmas cancellations made following the introduction of measures to limit the spread of the Omicron variant in England will cut their earnings by 40%.

Trade body UK Hospitality has forecast that takings will be down by as much as 40% for December, after data from last week revealed early signs that customers were staying away. From Monday to Sunday last week, a 13% drop in trade and a 15% increase in cancellations compared with pre-pandemic levels were witnessed.

UK Mortgage Lending Drops as Property Market Cools

The mortgage market slowed in the third quarter of the year between July and September.

The Bank of England’s latest data showed Brits borrowed £73.4 billion in mortgages between July and September — down £15.6 billion from the previous quarter, when the stamp duty holiday was more generous, but up 17.4% from a year earlier.

It also showed that the value of new mortgage commitments was 8.2% less than the previous quarter, but broadly unchanged from a year earlier, at £78.9 billion.

Deadline Extension for Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Scheme

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy confirmed that it is proposing a 12-month extension to the non-domestic RHI’s application deadline, moving the date from 31 March 2022 to 31 March 2023.

Also set to be extended are the second and third allocations of the scheme’s tariff guarantee, which will allow organisations to secure a fixed tariff before their installation is commissioned and accredited.

New Laws and Code of Practice to Resolve Commercial Rent Debts

From 25 March 2022, new laws introduced in the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Bill, will establish a legally-binding arbitration process for commercial landlords and tenants who have not yet reached an agreement, following the principles in the Code of Practice.

The new laws will be implemented in England and Wales, and Northern Ireland will have a power to introduce similar legislation. The Commercial Rent Bill will apply to commercial rent debts related to the mandated closure of certain businesses such as pubs, gyms and restaurants during the pandemic.

Starting 10 November, the government is also protecting commercial tenants from debt claims, including County Court Judgements (CCJs), High Court Judgements (HCJs) and bankruptcy petitions, issued against them in relation to rent arrears accrued during the pandemic.

Cold Weather Payment Scheme

From 1 November, households have become eligible for the Cold Weather Payment scheme which involves a weekly reduction on their energy bills.

You can receive this payment if the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees celsius or below over seven consecutive days. Eligible individuals will get £25 for each seven-day period of very cold weather between 1 November 1 and 31 March 2022.

£500 Million Plan for Jobs Expansion

Workers leaving the furlough scheme and unemployed individuals over 50 years old will be supported back into work as part of more than £500m expansion of the government’s Plan for Jobs. People earning the lowest wages will also benefit and existing schemes targeting young people will be extended into next year as part of the new package.

Starting in April 2022, the Government is enhancing its programme of support for workers on Universal Credit.

SME Brexit Support Fund

The SME Brexit Support Fund will help businesses adjust to new customs, rules of origin, and VAT rules when trading with the EU.

Traders can apply for a grant of up to £2,000 to pay for practical support for importing and exporting. This fund will help businesses prepare for the implementation of import controls that will take effect from April and July.

More details can be found here.

Kickstart Scheme

The Kickstart Scheme:

  • Provides funding to employers to create new job placements for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit
  • Covers 100% of the National Minimum Wage (or the National Living Wage) for 25 hours a week for a total of six months
  • Also covers National Insurance contributions
  • Employers can spread the start date of the job placements until the end of December 2021

Applications close in December. More information can be found here.

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