24 03 2020 Insights Employment Law

Covid-19 – “Unprecedented Measures” announced by Government today

Reading time: 4 Mins


By Jennifer Cashman and Lefre de Burgh
24 March 2020

  • Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment increased to €350
  • Covid-19 related illness benefit increased to €350
  • New Support Scheme for Employers and Employees announced, to keep employees in their jobs
  • Working Capital Loan Scheme plus other supports available for business
  • Support for mortgage-holders
  • Banking and credit measures
  • Closures extended to April 19
  • Lots of new closures announced
  • New physical distancing measures announced
  • “One Tier” health system

Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment to increase to from €203 to €350

The Government has confirmed that the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment for people who have lost their job as a result of the pandemic will increase from €203 to €350. People who have already been approved for the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment will now get an increased payment of €350 per week (instead of €203). Anyone else who loses their job due to the Covid-19 crisis can apply to the Department for payment at the new rate. The Covid-19 illness payment will also be increased to €350 per week. The new Scheme will be in place for 12 weeks.

The Department of Social Protection will also process applications for jobseeker’s allowance, as some people who have dependents may be in line for a payment higher than the €350. The Department will aim to move those applications to the top of the queue, so that those people can access the higher payment to which they are entitled, as quickly as possible.

Self-employed workers who qualify will be paid the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350, rather than through the Revenue scheme.

Enhanced Illness Payment – Increased from €305 to €350

For those required to self-isolate and for those confirmed to have Covid-19, illness benefit payment has been increased from €305 to €350, bringing it in line with the new rate of the Pandemic Unemployment Payment

Covid-19 Wage Subsidy Scheme: New support scheme for employers and employees aimed at keeping workers in their jobs: €3.7bn package

Additionally, the Cabinet has also approved a €3.7bn emergency support package, based on a 12 week’ period, in a bid to cushion the economic impact of the pandemic.

An eligible employer will be supported by up to 70% of an employee’s take home income up to a maximum weekly tax free payment of €410 (i.e. 70% of take home weekly income of €38,000 per annum). The scheme will provide support on incomes up to €76,000 or twice average earnings. It will be capped at net €350 for incomes between €38,000 and €76,000.

The employer is expected to make best efforts to maintain as close to 100% of normal income as possible for the subsidised period. Revenue will provide further guidance on operation of the scheme. There will be severe penalties for any abuse of the scheme.

Employers must self-declare to Revenue that they have experienced significant negative economic disruption due to Covid-19, with a minimum of 25% decline in turnover, and an inability to pay normal wages and other outgoings, in accordance with guidance to be issued by Revenue.

This scheme is open to impacted employers in all sectors. This recognises the impact that Covid-19 is having across all parts of the economy. The employee must have been on the payroll in February 2020.

Self-employed who qualify will be paid the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment of €350 rather than through the Revenue scheme. They will be eligible on a similar basis as the Revenue scheme for employees.

Revenue and Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection will provide details to employers today on how to apply.

Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohue said that the State is supporting a portion of the salary of some of its citizens with the goal of the employee retaining their job and retaining their relationship with the employer.

This payment replaces the Department's Employer Refund Scheme announced on 15th March, and any business that received refunds under the current scheme does not need to reapply. The Revenue Commissioners will contact them directly to confirm that they meet the conditions for this new scheme.

All new and enhanced Payments will be available from Thursday and Friday this week [March 26th and 27th 2020]

Working Capital Loan Scheme available for business – €200 million available

Businesses can apply for working capital loans on the SPCI website.

Loans up to €500,000 can be applied for unsecured.

More information is available at: https://sbci.gov.ie/schemes/covid-19-loan-application

Support for mortgage-holders

A series of measures to support people impacted by Covid-19 have been announced by the banking sector. These include:

  • flexible arrangements, including a payment break for mortgages and other loans. Customers affected by COVID-19 must contact their bank to discuss the flexibility available to them, including the possibility of a payment break of up to 3 months. Non-bank mortgage lenders and credit servicing firms have also announced their support for this measure.
  • support for buy-to-let bank customers with tenants affected by COVID 19 – customers with rental property in which the tenants are adversely impacted by COVID-19 will also be provided with flexibility including with an opportunity to seek a payment break of up to 3 months, which will allow them to exercise due levels of forbearance to their tenants.
  • applications for payment breaks as a result of COVID-19 will not affect credit records.

Other supports for businesses

In addition to the Scheme being announced today, the Government has already announced a range of measures including:

Financial supports including:

  • a €200m Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland Working Capital scheme;
  • a €200m Rescue and Restructuring Scheme available through Enterprise Ireland for vulnerable but viable firms;
  • the maximum loan available from Microfinance Ireland has been increased from €25,000 to €50,000 (these loans are now interest free with no repayments for 6 months);
  • Local Enterprise Offices in every county will be providing vouchers from €2,500 up to €10,000;
  • a Finance in Focus grant of €7,200 will be available to Enterprise Ireland and Údarás na Gaeltachta clients

Other supports including:

  • a First Responder support service through the Intreo Offices and development agencies;
  • Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland in each region to provide tailored supports for affected businesses;
  • the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection Short Term Work Support Scheme.

Deferral of Business Rates: the Government has agreed with local authorities that they should defer rates payments due from the most immediately affected businesses, primarily in the retail, hospitality, leisure and childcare sectors, until the end of May.

Taxation Measures to alleviate short-term difficulties: Revenue has also posted specific advice for businesses experiencing trading difficulties as a result of COVID-19 including information on tax returns, the application of late payment interest, debt enforcement, tax clearance and customs.

Banking and Credit Measures

All the banks have announced that they will offer flexibility to their customers and they may be able to provide payment holidays or emergency working capital facilities.

The main non-bank lenders also confirmed their intention to also support the range of measures announced by the country’s main retail banks which is to be welcomed.

A deferral of up to 3-months on loan repayments will be available to many businesses. In addition, the banks are adopting a customer-focussed approach to these businesses with a wide variety of tailored supports including extensions of credit lines, risk guarantees and trade finance. These supports complement the range of Government supports available through the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland.

The Central bank has confirmed that it will allow banks to dip into their rainy-day capital reserves to keep lending flowing. It is anticipated that this move could free up considerable additional credit for households and businesses.

A small but important change for many businesses is the limit for contactless credit card payments has been raised from €30 to €50.

Further Closures: Public health advice

All closures have been extended until April 19th, 2020 and further closures have been announced. Earlier today, it was confirmed, by the Minister for Education, Joe McHugh that schools, colleges and crèches will remain closed beyond the initial date of March 29th, citing expert public health advice.

From midnight on March 24th, 2020:

  • All theatres, clubs, gyms/leisure centres, hairdressers, betting shops, marts, markets, casinos, bingo halls, libraries and other similar outlets are to close.
  • All hotels are to limit occupancy to essential non-social and non-tourist reasons.
  • All non-essential retail outlets are to close to members of the public and all other retail outlets are to implement social distancing.
  • All cafes and restaurants are to limit supply to take-away food or delivery and to implement social distancing measures in respect of queueing.
  • All sporting events are to be cancelled, including those behind closed doors.
  • All playgrounds and holiday/caravan parks are to close.
  • All places of worship are to restrict numbers entering to ensure adequate social distancing.
  • All organised indoor and outdoor events are not to take place.
  • All household contacts of a suspect case (i.e. a person who is awaiting a test or test result) should restrict movements until the test is reported negative or for 14 days, whichever is shorter.
  • Individuals should work from home, unless workplace attendance is essential.
  • Numbers on public transport will be limited, at any one time. New cleaning schedules are to be introduced
  • Those living in residential care and institutions (care homes, prisons, psychiatric institutions) will be provided will social distancing, insofar as it is possible.
  • Gardai interventions and garda presence/visibility are to increase, especially in public parks.
  • All non-essential visits to other people’s homes should cease.
  • All crowded places, including public amenities should be avoided.
  • All scheduled cruise ship travel is to cease.

Physical Distancing: Outdoor gatherings restricted to 4 people

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar has requested that citizens leave their homes for essential reasons only. Social gatherings of more than 4 people are now not allowed, unless they are from the same household.

The Taoiseach has said that social interactions need to reduce by 75%, in order to stem the spread of the virus; that citizens need to interact with their friends and families much less frequently.

“One Tier” Health System

Minister for Health, Simon Harris has announced a “one-tier” health system, with admission to hospital being determined solely by clinical need, essentially suspending any special privileges for the holders of private health insurance (PHI). The State has entered into a deal with private hospitals, so that, in effect, they operate as public hospitals, for the duration of the pandemic.

He has urged all citizens to “Please Do More.”

For more information on the content of this insight please contact:
Jennifer Cashman, Partner | E. jennifer.cashman@rdj.ie | T. +353 21 4802708
Lefre de Burgh, Counsel | E. lefre.deburgh@rdj.ie | T. +353 21 4802700

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