The President, telling the nation that “We will prioritise the lives and livelihoods of our people above all else, and will use all of the measures that are within our power to protect them from the economic consequences of this pandemic”, has announced a variety of initiatives to assist SMMEs (Small, Medium and Micro-Enterprises) that will need assistance in surviving the three week lockdown and economic disruptions flowing from the COVID-19 coronavirus.
Please note these are new initiatives, so expect delays, changes to schemes, new proposals and differing interpretations. Everyone’s patience will be tested!
Some of the announced measures discussed below still need to be enacted and may be different when they are finalized. Expect ongoing changes and keep Googling for ongoing lists of proposed and implemented avenues of business relief.
The UIF has an estimated surplus of R180 billion and this is the logical first port of call when looking at incentives, especially as money given by the UIF is not a loan, and thus doesn’t have to be repaid. There are two routes to access this money – using the traditional UIF method (National Disaster Benefit) or making use of the new Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) which is discussed below.
For either method, the employer must be registered with the UIF and be making monthly contributions. If you are behind on contributions, you can pay in any backlog you have.
National Disaster Benefit
You can also download the UIF’s “Easy-Aid Guide for Employers” here.
Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme (TERS)
This applies to businesses who temporarily shut down – a three-month period is envisioned but this could be extended. The UIF then pays salaries to all staff, based on the current UIF pay outs – a maximum of R6 731 p.m. for staff earning R17 162 or more down to the minimum wage of R3 500.
There is quite a bit of documentation here – send an email to Covid19ters@labour.gov.za and you will get the forms to be completed and other requirements needed.
A Memorandum of Agreement is signed and the employer submits (in the required format) a spreadsheet of employee details and salary, proof of payment of the last 3 months’ salaries, bank confirmation of the applicable bank account.
You will need to open a separate bank account for this and prove each month that all staff have been paid.
There is quite a bit of work here and getting the forms accurate will prevent delays in payment.
Which of the two schemes to choose from depends on your business – there is some crossover, for example, quarantined employees can claim under the National Disaster Benefit (see Quarantine and Illness). On the face of it, TERS looks more lucrative but it is very admin intensive in setting up, and as a new scheme it may be subject to teething problems. Ask your accountant for advice in doubt.
R500 million has been set aside to help SMMEs due to the impact of the coronavirus. The money will be in the form of loans at prime less 5%. Assistance falls into two categories:
The starting point is to register on the DSBD’s portal (www.smmesa.gov.za) – the registration entails staff breakdown between males and females, the number of youth employees and racial classification of staff. There is also a section on who owns the business and annual turnover. The business needs to be 100% South African owned and the work force is to be 70% local.
The DSBD is setting up an SMME database which will be used in future interventions.
Once registered follow the application process which opens on 2 April. How much each business gets is still unclear.
Call the DSBD’s hotline 0860 663 7867 or email email@example.com to check what kind of government support you qualify for.
R3 billion assistance has been set aside with a main focus on providing funding to “vulnerable” businesses and to provide financing help to companies involved in the battle to roll back the coronavirus. It’s not that dissimilar to the DSBD’s approach but it serves all business, not just SMMEs. Of the R3 billion, R500 million will be for importing needed medical products and R700 million will be for financing equipment and working capital requirements. Guidelines as to how to apply are forthcoming.
This has been set up with R150 million from the government (www.solidarityfund.co.za) and it is designed to help stop and detect the virus, look after the people with it, plus help those people who are vulnerable as a result of the coronavirus. Mary Oppenheimer has pledged R1 billion to this fund and Naspers has committed R500 million.
You may wish to donate to the fund or apply for help for struggling staff members.
The Rupert and Oppenheimer families and the Motsepe Foundation, have each pledged R1 billion. Motsepe’s money will go towards helping poor communities fight the coronavirus by supplying them with hand sanitisers etc. The Ruperts’ and Oppenheimers’ funds will be to help struggling small businesses and employees, as a result of the coronavirus. In addition, Naspers has pledged R1.5 billion (in addition to the R500 million to the Solidarity Fund) to source medical supplies and protective equipment, from China, for health care workers. .
The Rupert funds will be disbursed by Business Partners and application forms will soon be released – although details are not yet available, the money will be a loan.
The Oppenheimer money will be paid out from the “South Africa Future Trust” through the major four banks in the form of a five-year interest free loan – for details see SAFT’s website. SMMEs will apply to their bank which will then pay salaries directly into employees’ bank accounts. No liability will be incurred by employees – the business will be liable for repayment. Speak to your bank manager for how to apply – the system begins operating on 3 April.
Details on the Motsepe and Naspers disbursements are still outstanding.
The Competition Act has been amended to allow banks to work together to come up with solutions to help indebted companies and people. The major banks have announced cash flow relief measures – these will have to be repaid. Speak to your bank for more details and see a summary of bank-by-bank relief as announced to date here.
The Competition Act has also been relaxed to allow retail tenants to get together and present a unified negotiating position to landlords in the areas of evictions, rental discounts and rental “holidays”. This is already happening with “active” negotiation and demands between retail landlords and tenants.
A R200 million fund has been set up to help SMMEs in the tourism sector (Read “COVID-19 interventions for the tourism sector” here).
It applies to SMMEs with R2.5 Million or less. 70% of pay outs will be to Black owned Businesses with a bias towards rural areas.
The CIPC have extended the deadline for submission of the Annual Return, if you are required to submit during the lockdown process to April 30.
Government is considering suspending employers and employees UIF contributions and employer payments to the Skills Development Fund.
To date most businesses are reportedly finding that Business Interruption Insurance claims are not being considered by insurance companies.
Expect more initiatives to emerge as we move deeper into the coronavirus crisis. How much these measures will cushion the shock to the economy is unknown. They are, considering how little fiscal space there is, a creative and welcome attempt to help business and people affected by the lockdown and other restrictions. Nevertheless, the economy is virtually certain to enter a deep recession, particularly following the downgrade by Moody’s on March 27.
Remember we are facing desperate times and the nation, led by President Ramaphosa, has shown courage and determination in facing down the coronavirus.
The bottom line for businesses – help is at hand if you need it!
Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.