Weekly Digest – 9 February 2022

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

£350 Government Support to Help with Energy Costs

The Energy Bills Rebate will provide around 28 million households with an upfront discount on their bills worth £200 from October. Households in England, which are in council tax bands A-D, will also receive a £150 rebate from April.

This £9.1 billion government support is intended to help with the cost of living after the increase in energy costs.

Lump Sum Exit Scheme Support for Farmers

Farmers who wish to leave the industry will be supported by a new Government scheme that provides a lump sum payment, allowing them to exit the sector in a managed way. In exchange for their payment, farmers will surrender their entitlements and be expected to either rent or sell their land or surrender their tenancy, in order to create opportunities for new entrants and farmers wishing to expand their businesses.

The Lump Sum Exit Scheme, where farmers could receive up to around £100,000, is due to open in April and the application period will run until the end of September.

Growth in Card Spending Slows

Shoppers are spending less on their credit and debit cards in January as Plan B COVID restrictions and rising living costs hit retail, leisure, and hospitality sectors.

According to the latest data from Barclaycard, consumer card spending rose 7.4% in January compared to the same period in 2020– the smallest increase since April 2021. Spending on essential items grew by 10.4%, the smallest uplift in 9 months.

While these headwinds are likely to persist over the coming months, a boost can be expected from Valentine’s Day shopping, international tourism, and increased spending on experiences.

Halifax: House Prices Hit Record Highs in January

House prices have hit record highs last month, as the average UK house price on mortgage lender Halifax’s index rose to a new record high of £276,759. This reflects a year-over-year increase of around £24,500 and an increase of £37,500 from pre-pandemic levels.

However, with household budgets squeezed by rising inflation, and higher interest rates pushing up mortgage costs, the market is expected to cool.

UK Shared Prosperity Fund Pre-Launch Guidance Published

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is a central pillar of the government’s levelling up agenda and sets out a new approach to improve livelihoods and opportunities across the UK.

It provides £2.6 billion of new funding for local investment by March 2025, with all parts of the UK receiving an allocation via a funding formula rather than a competition. You can find the Pre-Launch Guidance published alongside the Levelling Up White Paper here.

Updated Travel Rules

The government has announced further relaxation of travel restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals arriving in the UK.

Fully vaccinated travellers who arrive in the UK after 4:00 am on 11 February must complete the public health passenger locator form within 48 hours before travel. This means they are no longer required to show a negative COVID-19 test result on arrival, self-isolate upon arrival, and take a PCR or lateral flow test.

On the other hand, unvaccinated travellers must:

  • present a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than 48 hours prior to departure
  • complete the public health passenger locator form within 48 hours prior to travel
  • book and pay for two mandated COVID-19 tests to be taken on or before day two and on or after day eight of arrival.

They will no longer have to quarantine upon arrival unless the COVID-19 PCR test is positive. If the result is positive, they must self-isolate for 10 full days. This can be reduced at the start of day 6 if the day 5 and day 6 tests are both negative and taken 24 hours apart.

Over £700 Million New Grant Fund for Businesses Impacted by Omicron

Businesses in England most impacted by the Omicron variant will be able to tap into a new £700 million support package in the coming weeks.

Firms in the hospitality, leisure and accommodation sectors will be able to apply for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises depending on rateable value:

  • businesses with a rateable value of £51,000 or above: £6,000
  • businesses with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000: £4,000
  • businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or below: £2,667

In addition, more than £100 million worth of discretionary funding is also being made available for local authorities to support other businesses.

£1 Billion Support for UK Businesses Impacted by Omicron

The government is providing one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors in England. More than £100 million discretionary funding will be made available for local authorities to support other businesses.

The government will also cover the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for Covid-related absences for small and medium-sized employers across the UK. To enable more cultural organisations to apply for support during the winter, further funding amounting to £30 million will be made available through the Culture Recovery Fund.

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 the 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.

Cold Weather Payment Scheme

From 1 November 2021, 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.

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