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Coronavirus – support for businesses

The coronavirus and the nature of the national response to it is presenting many businesses with an unprecedented challenge. This page contains information about the support that is available to help.

Your business might need a 'track and trace' QR code poster

A new ‘track and trace’ app is being launched to help stop the spread of the virus. Everyone in the country will be encouraged to download and use it.

The government is asking any business that is open to the public to support the app by downloading a poster to be displayed at their entrance. The same request is being made of places of worship and community facilities. Each poster will include a unique ‘QR code’ which is a bit like a barcode that can be scanned using the camera on most mobile phones.

Used alongside the app, the code will help public health teams to record where a person has been so that they can find out who might have been in contact with a particular person if they later test positive for Covid-19. 

The government has made it very simple to produce your unique poster online. Just fill in the details of your business using this simple form. A poster will then be sent to you by email and you will need to print a copy for display and ask people to scan it as they enter your premises.

We hope that most of you will have access to a printer or will know someone who has. To support those who do not have access to a printer, we have made a list of local providers available.


Cobra 'Eat Out To Help Out' in September 2020

There are endless restaurants, cafes and pubs for diners across the borough, and for September, a selection of them are offering discounts similar to the government's ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, which ran in August.

Made possible through a partnership with Cobra Beer, people can claim up to £10 off their bill per person (on food only) at a handful of participating venues in Tower Hamlets. There's also a buy one get one free offer on Cobra. Read about the offer.

If you’re a business owner, find out about signing up your establishment.

Or if you want to make use of the offer and have a meal out, find a participating restaurant near you.

Please note, this is not part of the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which ended in August.

Discretionary Grants Scheme

*Update: this scheme has now closed*

The government has delivered an initial package of support for small businesses through the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Leisure and Hospitality Grant Fund for which eligibility was calculated via business rates payments.

Recognising that many severely impacted businesses were excluded from these grants, an additional Discretionary Grants Scheme has been launched. This is aimed at small businesses that did not qualify for one of the previous schemes and that have ongoing property-related costs.

The awards will be split between market traders (10 per cent or £368,000) and all other qualifying small local businesses and charities (90 per cent or £3.3m).

Find out more

Government guidance

The government has released further information on the next phase of the national response to coronavirus. You can read the full guidance document or select information on specific topics.

The information about businesses and venues and going to work may be of particular relevance.

They also have some guidance on face coverings: when to wear one and how to make your own.

There is also a set of frequently asked questions about what you can and can't do in the coming days and weeks. 

Making your workplace 'Covid secure'

Risk assessments – your duty as an employer

To ensure the safety of your employees and others affected by your work activity (e.g. customers) you must carry out a risk assessment. 

As a result, you may need to put additional measures in place to protect your employees and customers from Coronavirus. If you have fewer than five employees, you don’t have to write anything down, but it might help if you do.

The Health and Safety Executive has produced some guidance on working safely during the coronavirus outbreak. You can also download template risk assessments.

We have listed additional government guides covering different types of work that may assist you in completing your risk assessment

Government guidance

The government has published guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic. In some cases, it may be necessary to consider more than one of these guides, for example you may work from a vehicle and in people's homes or you may operate a warehouse and a shop. 

The complete list can be found on the GOV.UK working safely website.

Please contact Environmental Health and Trading Standards on 020 7364 5008 for advice about working safely with coronavirus. You can also report concerns about a business not following government safety guidance during coronavirus.

Business restrictions and closures

Government rules mean that some businesses must remain closed and other business sectors like hospitality have restrictions, such as curfews place upon them. This is to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Find coronavirus financial support for your business

An online tool has been created to help you figure out what support your business is eligible for and how you can access it.

This further outlines some of the key areas where the council can provide either direct support or information about where best to get more specialist assistance.

Fact sheets and business checklist

The London Growth Hub has also produced fact sheets and a business checklist, that you might find useful, and is providing the opportunity to talk one-to-one with an adviser.

Guide to business and self-employment support available from the government


To support markets and traders during these difficult times, the council is waving all pitch fees for both permanent and casual market traders from Monday 23 March until Thursday 30 April. During this time priority points will also be frozen.

We will continue to review the situation to extend or provide further support where needed. For more information please email our markets team.


The council is helping VCS organisations with free access to volunteers through our volunteering hub with Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets.

We will continue to fund VCS partners, including organisations whose grants are due to come to an end, and will contact organisations that might qualify for a three-month rent holiday.

Financial support is available through local, regional and national grant schemes, which can help organisations in Tower Hamlets with unexpected costs, loss of income or new projects.

Information is available from the National Council for Voluntary Organisations to help VCS organisations prepare for the potential impacts of coronavirus on their operations or finances.

Find out more about funding for voluntary and community organisations.


We recognise that businesses in Tower Hamlets are facing a unique challenge due to the coronavirus pandemic. To support those businesses for whom we are the landlord, we have launched a rent deferral scheme.

It is aimed at allowing businesses to manage their cash flow, relieving stress during this unprecedented period and making it easier to meet immediate financial commitments such as paying staff and suppliers and meeting running costs.

The scheme will enable tenants to delay the payment of their rent for three calendar months from 1 April 2020.  

The expectation is that the deferred rent payments should be paid in full by 31 March 2021, however we understand that there may be some businesses that require an extension due to hardship and in such circumstances, we will give consideration to special arrangements.   

Businesses will be eligible to apply for a rent deferral if they meet one or more of the following criteria:

  • The premises have been closed in accordance with the government guidance on closing certain businesses and venues.
  • The premises have been closed by the council due to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The business cannot trade.
  • The business has been granted business rates relief as part of the government relief scheme.
  • The business is considered micro or SME in accordance with current government guidance.

Apply now

If you have questions about the scheme, please email rentdefermentscheme@towerhamlets.gov.uk

The government has also announced new protections for commercial tenants, other than those for whom the council is the landlord, that are not able to pay their rent during the next three months, as a result of COVID-19.

Network Rail has announced it is cancelling all first quarter (25 March to 23 June 2020) rent payments due from tenants in their commercial estate portfolio, providing significant relief for small businesses.

It has been announced that small and medium businesses on TfL's estate, which make up 86 per cent of tenants, are to get 100 per cent rent relief. This will start from start from 25 March for the next three months.


The government's self-employment income support scheme will provide a grant to the value of 80 per cent of average historic annual profits, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

If you are a ‘gig-economy’ or zero hours contract worker you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay –  check your eligibility.

If you are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, you may be eligible for benefits such as the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit.

ESA can be paid if you are sick, isolating according to government advice, or caring for a sick or isolating child.

ESA will be claimable from day one, rather than day eight of sickness.

ESA pays up to £73/week and is not impacted by a partner’s income, though it may be affected by a claimant’s personal pension.

Self-employed claimants on Universal Credit who are required to stay at home or are ill will not have a Minimum Income Floor (an assumed level of income) applied for a period of time while affected.

Please contact Job Centre Plus for claims for either Universal Credit or ESA.

Changes to the way freelancers and contractors are classified for tax purposes, under the IR35 or 'off payroll' reforms, have been deferred for 12 months.

The Prince's Trust and Natwest Enterprise Relief Fund provides entrepreneurs aged 18 to 30 with grants to maintain their business during the crisis.


In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the government announced there would be extra support for small businesses, and businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.

Tower Hamlets Council has identified eligible ratepayers and has started issuing grant payments to local businesses by issuing them directly to their bank accounts. 

The council has also identified and contacted business rate account holders we believe may qualify for the grant payment, but whose business bank details we do not hold.

We have so far contacted the those who may qualify by email on 3 April 2020. Please read more and take action if required.


The retail discount for business rates has been increased from 50 per cent to 100 per cent and extended to include the leisure and hospitality sectors.

This includes public houses and means that the pubs discount scheme will no longer be needed as a separate discount. The discount will apply to occupied retail, leisure and hospitality properties in the year 2020/21 and there will be no rateable value limit.

The government has also announced that for the year 2020/21, nurseries and childcare providers will receive 100 per cent relief from business rates if occupied by providers on Ofsted’s Early Years Register and wholly or mainly used for the provision of the Early Years Foundation Stage.

We have identified all properties that we think will benefit from these measures and will start issuing new bills on the evening of Monday 23 March 2020. If you do not receive a bill showing the new discounts by Friday 3 April 2020 and think that you should have received one, please get in touch with us at business.rates@towerhamlets.gov.uk

If you have any queries, please get in touch with us at business.rates@towerhamlets.gov.uk or on 0207 364 5010.


As a council we will do all we can to protect the businesses of Tower Hamlets through this difficult time. If you have a commercial waste contract with us, and your business is in financial difficulty, please contact us to discuss options that may be available to you including a suspension of commercial waste charges for those businesses forced to suspend trading.

Please call us on 020 7364 4933.

For more information, see our commercial waste pages.


We have a dedicated enterprise team working to support our local business community.

We work in partnership with local and national agencies to provide businesses with relevant training, advice on subjects such as business planning, marketing, raising finance and becoming fit to supply. We also bring our business community together through the use of digital networking events, workshops and seminars.

If you would like to get in contact with a member of the team to find out what support is available for your business, please contact us by emailing thenterprise@towerhamlets.gov.uk, calling 020 7364 4458 or completing this online form.

A member of the team will get back to you within 24 hours, 9am – 5pm, Monday to Friday.

You can also follow us on twitter or join our mailing list to receive regular business support updates.


Food hygiene guidance for food deliveries and food businesses operating a take-away facility is available on the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health website.

If you wish to offer take-out services, please contact our environmental health and trading standards service for advice by email at food.safety@towerhamlets.gov.uk or licensing@towerhamlets.gov.uk.   

If you have any specific concerns or questions relating to coronavirus and how this might affect your business, please complete our online form and someone from our enterprise team will get back to you.

Nursery businesses will benefit from a business rates holiday for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.

The council will identify eligible businesses and automatically apply all new reliefs and issue adjusted bills.


Through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be able to access support to continue to pay part of the salaries of employees that are laid off because of the crisis.

HMRC will reimburse 80 per cent of these worker’s wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, backdated to 1 March 2020.

HMRC will be setting up the systems required for this new scheme and more details will follow.

Statutory Sick Pay will be available to all who are advised to self-isolate from coronavirus or are caring for someone else who has, provided the employees earnings are over £118/week.

Rules around GP sick notes have also been relaxed, and a notification can be obtained from NHS 111 Online.

Statutory Sick Pay will be paid from day one instead of day four and government intend to legislate so this measure applies retrospectively from 13 March 2020.

The government will refund the cost of Statutory Sick Pay for up to 14 days to small and medium-sized businesses.

Employment allowance to increase by £1,000 allowing certain businesses who employ staff to reduce their National Insurance bill by £4,000.

The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) has advice for businesses on dealing with a range of employment issues including staff absence, homeworking, staff presenting symptoms, closing premises and staff lay-offs.


The coronavirus business interruption loan scheme offers finance to smaller businesses that are viable but unable to obtain finance due to insufficient security to meet the lender’s normal requirements.

Businesses with a turnover of no more than £41 million can apply for a loan of between £1,000 and £5 million, from a range of lenders

At the discretion of lenders, for loans below £250,000 the scheme can be used for unsecured lending.

Commercial tenants unable to pay rent because of coronavirus will be protected from eviction.

No interest is due on the loan for the first 12 months and there are no fees.

You should talk to your bank or finance provider (not the British Business Bank) as soon as possible and discuss your business plan with them.

If your business premises are eligible for Small Business Rate Relief, grants of up to £10,000 are being made available.

A new helpline (0800 015 9559) to the HMRC's Time to Pay service is open, so businesses and the self-employed can arrange to defer tax payments. More information is also available online.     

VAT payments are going to be deferred for three months. The deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020 and businesses will not need to make a VAT payment during this period.

Advice for businesses that trade internationally has been published by the Department for International Trade.


A comprehensive Business Support website is now available with up to date information as new announcements are made. It includes:

Business interruption loan scheme and financing facilities

Job retention scheme

Statutory sick pay

Business rates holiday for nurseries

Self-employed income tax referral

VAT deferral

This website also provides links to business representative agencies such as the Federation of Small Businesses and Make UK (Manufacturing), and ACAS.

The government is considering how to extend wage support schemes to self-employed individuals. The Business Support website will be updated with the latest information when further announcements are made. 

For all HMRC enquiries please call 0800 159 559.

The Metropolitan Police Business Crime Hub has issued some useful guidance about ensuring your business does not become a victim of crime during these challenging times.
The Covid Corporate Financing Facility will support liquidity amongst incorporated businesses through the Bank of England buying short term debt from larger companies.