The COVID-19 pandemic has caused mass uncertainty and disruption for businesses across the country, including HVAC companies and the wider construction industry.

We know many of our partners have had difficulties during this time and want to support you, the best way we can, so we have collated information from the Government and other independent sources that we hope will help you now and into the future.

How has COVID-19 impacted HVAC businesses?

As a contractor in the HVAC industry, you're carrying out important work to maintain modern levels of energy-efficient comfort in a time where we need it most. But unfortunately, this doesn't grant immunity from the economic quakes that COVID-19 is bringing. 

This is a novel situation for everyone and all businesses have been affected differently, with each facing their own challenges and difficulties.

The lockdown period saw scheduled jobs being cancelled due to not being deemed essential, or because end-users experienced their own difficulties. This left many HVAC businesses in financial difficulty.

Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning Wall Mounted in Lobby 1

As we now look to life after COVID-19, our thoughts are focused on how we can operate our buildings and businesses in a way that is safe to employers, employees and customers.

Although, circumstances are still conditional meaning it's difficult to anticipate what will happen week to week.

Exterior of office buildings with a large pond

Stay informed

It's all of our responsibility to ensure we are aware of the facts on COVID-19, to keep ourselves and those around us safe.

As per the government's recent announcement, we have now moved from a Level 4 alert to a Level 3 alert.

Although COVID-19 is still in general circulation, transmission risk can be managed with social distancing measures in place.

 

For those who can work from home, it has been advised to continue doing so. But those who can't should be encouraged to return to work, following new COVID-secure guidance from the government. For these individuals, public transport should be avoided, travelling by car, bicycle or by walking where you are able to. . If this isn't possible, then individuals must wear a face covering on all public transport.

To check if you should go back into work, click here.

Working Safely Resources

In their COVID-19 secure guidance, the government have published 8 separate guides covering a range of different working environments. Of particular note to commercial HVAC installers is the Construction Guide which outlines how employers and employees can assess and manage the risk of COVID-19. Although, it is possible that as an employer, you may need to use more than one of these guides as you consider what is needed to keep your employees safe.  The government have also published their 5 steps to working safely page, which outlines specific actions businesses should take to ensure their workspace is safe, including COVID-19 risk assessments, cleaning, handwashing and hygiene procedures, helping staff work from home, maintaining 2-metre social distancing where possible, and where not possible, managing transmission risk.

The Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Associations have also released a document on operating and using building services to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces, in addition to the World Health Organisation releasing a 'Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19' guide which considers how to minimise the spread of coronavirus in the workplace, during meetings and when travelling.

Working with the Construction Leadership Council, CITB has produced a comprehensive range of interactive checklists and forms to assist construction employers, ensuring that those who are permitted and able to return to work have a clear understanding of how they can work safely. These include a site operating procedures compliance checklist, a health, safety and environmental risk assessment template, a toolbox talk for construction workers and a weekly site operating procedures checklist.

Finally, the BESA have published their practical measures for building services operation document, which gives a simple, clear overview of how to minimise transmission risk via building services.

Non-essential shops have reopened, on the condition that they follow the COVID-19 secure guidelines for shops and branches. Businesses must have completed a risk assessment before reopening and be confident that they are managing the risks and have taken the necessary steps to become COVID-19 secure in line with the current Health and Safety legislation. The updated guidance for the retail sector outlines the measures retailers should take to meet the necessary social distancing and hygiene standards.

As part of a government initiative, local authorities have access to a shared fund to support the safe reopening of high streets and other commercial areas. Retailers may, therefore, be able to access important local advice and guidance by contacting their local authority.

 

Currently the advice remains to stay alert, although restrictions have been relaxed. At this stage of the recovery strategy, you are allowed to meet in groups of up to two households in any location. Whilst outside, you can meet in groups of up to 6 people from different households, following social distancing guidelines. 

You are also now able to visit more shops and other outdoor attractions as well as form a support bubble with one other household if you are single adult household.

Social distancing rules are still in place and you should continue to wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you get home. It is also now mandatory to wear a face-covering on public transport.

High temperature: If you feel hot to touch on your chest or back you should self-isolate for 7 days.

New, continuous cough: If you've been coughing a lot for more than an hour, or had 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours, you should self-isolate for 7 days.

If you're living with someone who has coronavirus symptoms you should stay at home for 14 days starting from the day they started presenting symptoms.

If you live with a high-risk individual who is over 70 years old, has long-term, pre-existing health conditions, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, you should try to find somewhere safer for them to stay for 14 days. If this isn't possible, you should try to maintain social distancing as much as possible.

If you experience coronavirus symptoms, visit the NHS 111 online service to find out what you should do, and only call 111 if you cannot get help online.

The full list of preventative measures can be found on the NHS website, but the advice below gives a good starting point on the steps you need to take. Be sure to outline how you, as a business, are incorporating these measures.

Knowing how to prevent the spread of coronavirus allows you to implement safeguarding practices within your business. The following steps are recommended:

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds
  • Use hand sanitiser when you get home and into work
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands immediately after
  • Avoid close contact with others who have coronavirus
  • Only travel on public transport if you need to

Additional guidance

Government Support for Businesses

To find out what coronavirus-related financial support is available for your business, check here. Otherwise, HVAC businesses may find the following support schemes applicable (please note these are not applicable to self-employed business owners):

Job Retention Bonus: The Job Retention Bonus is a policy to reward and incentivise employers who keep their furloughed employees in the business to minimise job losses and maintain strong employment relationships. 

The government will introduce a one-off payment of £1000 to UK employers for every furloughed employee who is bought back and who remains continuously employed through to the end of January 2021. To be eligible, employees must earn above the Lower Earnings Limit of £520 per month on average, between the end of the Job Retention Scheme in October, and the end of January 2021. Payments will be made from February 2021.

Key Points: Furloughed employees bought back must earn above £520 per month between October and the end of January 2021. Further details about the scheme will be announced by the end of July.

Construction Talent Retention Scheme: The government-funded Construction Talent Retention Scheme will support the redeployment of workers at risk of redundancy in the construction sector, with the goal to retain construction skills and match talented workers to opportunities across the UK.

The scheme involves a dedicated resourcing and talent management platform supporting redeployment, recruitment and skills development across all sectors of construction. Individuals will be able to register their personal profile and CV and search for vacancies, whilst companies can contact individuals directly or advertise any vacancies they have. The portal is aimed to launch later in July, however, employer's are able to register their interest here.

Key Points: Employers can register their interest in the portal here. The portal is aimed to launch for everyone in the construction industry later in July.

Payments for employers hiring new apprentices: To support young people into work, the government will introduce a new payment of £2000 to employers in England for each new apprentice they hire under the age of 25, and a £1500 payment for each new apprentice hired over the age of 25, between August 1st 2020 to January 31st 2021. These payments are in addition to the existing £1000 payment the government already provides for new 16-18 apprentices. Employers can fill out an enquiry form here.

Key Points: Businesses can receive £2000 for each new apprentice under the age of 25 and £1500 for each new apprentice over the age of 25 between August 2020 and January 2021. 

Payments for employers who provide trainees with work experience: To find high-quality work placements and training for 16-24-year-olds, the government has announced they will provide an additional £111 million the year for traineeships in England.

As part of this, employers will be given £1000 for each work experience placement they offer to people aged 16-24. The traineeships will be expected to last between 6 weeks and 6 months.

Key Points: Businesses will receive £1000 per trainee for each trainee they provide with work experience, with traineeships expected to last between 6 weeks and 6 months.

Job Retention Scheme:The Government claim this scheme may support you in paying your employee's wages to avoid redundancies. It has been stated that HMRC will reimburse 80% of wage costs if workers have taken coronavirus-related absence, up to a cap of £2,500 per worker. Subject to the conditions of this scheme, if you elect to participate you may wish to consider designating your absent employees as 'furloughed workers' and notify them of this change, before submitting information to HMRC about your furloughed employees and their earnings via the HMRC online portal

Note that 31 July is the last day that you can submit claims for periods on or before 30 June, with it now possible to submit claims for periods starting on or after July 1.

Key points: Submit any claims through the online HMRC portal for furloughed employees you wish to claim for (subject to any additional HMRC conditions and guidance).

Deferred VAT payments: Government advice (as of 26.03.2020) suggests that VAT payments due between 20th March and 30th June will be deferred for 3 months. This scheme ended on 30 June as set out.

If you're VAT payments between 20 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 were deferred, you now need to set-up cancelled Direct Debits in enough time for HMRC to take payment, and continue to submit your VAT returns as normal, on time. If you chose to defer your VAT payment as a result of COVID-19, you must pay the VAT on or before 31 March 2021 (but please ensure that you check the Government guidance website carefully for any changes and/or updates). For more information, click here.

If you have any questions regarding VAT payments, there is a specific HMRC helpline you can call Monday to Friday between 8:00 am - 8:00 pm and Saturdays between 8:00 am - 4:00 pm. You can contact this helpline on 0800 0159 559.  Otherwise, you can speak to advisers via webchat to discuss problems with paying your taxes due to COVID-19 here.

Key points: This scheme has now ended. Deferred VAT payments must be paid on or before 31 March 2021 as per government advice.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) relief: In accordance with the Government's advice (as of 26.03.2020) the Government website suggests that it may be possible that if you're paying out SSP for absence due to COVID-19, you'll be able to reclaim this back from the first day of absence. The refund will cover up to 2 weeks SSP per employee for businesses with fewer than 250 employees - with eligibility beginning from 13th March and covering those who follow advice to stay at home even if they're not sick themselves, but who cannot work as a result. 

You must keep records of SSP that you've paid and want to claim back from HMRC and the following records must be kept for 3 years after the date you receive the payment for your claim:

  • dates the employee was off sick
  • which of those dates were qualifying days
  • the reason they said they were off work
  • the employee's National Insurance number

It's also worth noting that should evidence be required to reclaim SSP, you can advise your employees to get an isolation note via NHS 111 online, or a note from the NHS website if they are living with someone who has coronavirus symptoms. You can claim now for SSP here.

Key points: Check here for eligibility criteria and make a claim here.

Filing accounts extension: Companies House has announced that businesses will receive an extra 3 months to file their accounts. As of March 25th, Companies House state you can apply for this extension, allowing you to avoid penalties as you manage the effects of COVID-19. You can apply for the extension here, with any business citing COVID-19 as the reason for delay automatically granted the extra time. If you do not apply for this extension but file your accounts late as a result of COVID-19, you will still receive an automatic penalty. Applications take only 15 minutes to complete via the online portal.

Key pointsApply for a 3-month extension before your filing deadline and cite COVID-19 as the reason for the extension

Government support for the self-employed

Self-employed income support scheme

For self-employed HVAC contractors, the Government has announced a job retention scheme under which, subject to your eligibility under the terms of the scheme, they may pay a taxable grant worth up to 80% of your average monthly profits over the last 3 years, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. 

Eligibility encompasses those who make the majority of their income from self-employment, with trading profits of up to £50,000, and who have a tax return for 2019. For full eligibility criteria, click here. 

If you are eligible and want to claim for the first grant, you must do so on or before 13 July 2020. If your business has been adversely affected on or before 14 July 2020, you'll be able to make a claim from 17 August 2020. Claim for the first grant here.

Key point: Claims for the first grant must be made on or before 13 July. Second and final grant claims will be open from 17 August 2020.

Deferred Income Tax payments:

The Government has stated that Income Tax payments due on the 31st July 2020 under the self-assessment system may be deferred until 31st January 2021. This is automatically applied to those who are eligible, although it's noted that if you are able to make this payment in July, then you should do so. Please note the additional details and conditions on the Government website, in the Links below:

Apply to extend your accounts filing deadline

Self-employment Income Support Scheme FAQs

Key points: Your Income Tax payment may be automatically be deferred to 31st January 2021 subject to the conditions set out on the Government’s website; but you should make payment as usual if you're in a position to do so.

 

Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

The Department of BEIS has hosted several webinars for small businesses which you can rewatch here. The previous webinars have included:

For relevant, industry-specific updates from the government, they also have a bulletin where they regularly publish the latest updates. It would be particularly useful for our HVAC partners to sign up for the BEIS newsletter, so you're immediately updated with relevant developments from the government that can guide your strategy during this time.

Key points: Stay up to date with the latest webinars and sign up to the BEIS newsletter for the latest, industry-specific updates concerning COVID-19.

Support from trade associations

The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) have a dedicated page which has the latest developments, government and health advice as well as guidance from their own specialist teams for their members. They are also hosting daily webinars every weekday at noon giving all the latest COVID-19 updates alongside specific related topics. Regular bulletins with the latest information can be accessed here, offering you a simple method of accessing the latest and most relevant information.

They also have useful documents available for free including advice on contractual issues, advice if you or your employees require time off work, and how to plan for business disruption which we've elaborated on below. If you're a BESA member and have any queries on how your business might be affected by COVID19 you can email their team on covid19@thebesa.com

The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) have published useful information to ensure any on-site work is carried out in line with government guidance. Their Site Operating Procedures outline exactly how to protect yourself and your workforce in instances where you have fewer workers, as well as how to minimise the spread of the virus by implementing new hygiene and social distancing measures into your working day.

The CLC has also published guidance from Build UK on the contractual and practical issues that construction businesses need to consider, for current contracts and when negotiating future contracts.

Key points: Access valuable documents covering industry-specific issues, and register for daily COVID-19 updates from BESA. Familiarise with CLCs Site Operating Procedures for best practice when working on-site.

Create a Business Continuity Plan (BCP)

BCP is going to allow you to act faster and with greater confidence when a disaster occurs, as well as allow for a swifter recovery. Although it will have been beneficial to have a BCP in place for your HVAC business prior to COVID-19, it will still be extremely useful to devise a plan for the upcoming months so you are clear about the steps you are going to take and how you are planning to recover. The BESA have an excellent document with a BCP checklist and example which you can use to get started, and rest assured it's much simpler than it sounds and will prove invaluable now and into the future.

Key points: Use downtime to plan out your next steps, you can find an excellent checklist here.

Marketing support for your business

Facebook Small Business Grants Program

Announced on March 18th, Facebook states that it is offering $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries.

To be eligible to apply Facebook's criteria states that you must have between 2 and 50 employees, have been in business for over a year, have experienced COVID-19 related challenges and be in or near a location where Facebook operates. The exact details for UK eligibility are yet to be announced.

However, it is worth keeping this program on your radar as the scheme may be able to assist in helping keep your workforce going, allowing you to connect with more customers and cover your operational costs. As a small HVAC business, a cash grant or ad credits could be invaluable in helping you recover from the impact of COVID-19. Applications will begin in the coming weeks, but you can sign up for updates here.

Aside from their Small Business Grants Program, Facebook has also uploaded steps on managing through and building resilience during this time, with additional resources to help you plan an emergency response and minimise business downtime.

Key points: Sign up for updates on applying for their cash grants and ad credits.

Google ad credits for small and medium-sized businesses

As part of their COVID-19 response effort, Google has committed $340 million in Google Ads credits for small and medium-sized businesses across the world who have active Google Ads accounts. This is therefore applicable to contractor businesses who have advertised through Google before. The allocation of ads credits will be automatic, with a credit notification expected to appear in eligible accounts in the coming months - meaning there is no need to apply. Although the exact criteria to be classed as a small or medium-sized business is yet to be published, what we do know is that you need to have been active on your Google Ads account since the beginning of 2019, and that the credit will have to be used at any point until the end of 2020.

Google has also published a helpful page specifically for small businesses, with plenty of advice on running your business remotely, adapting to new customer behaviour as well as providing links to free digital training courses.

Key points: If your business qualifies, a credit notification will appear in your Google Ads account in the coming months.

Build or refresh your online presence

Marketing can often fall by the wayside for smaller businesses, and although a pause on incoming work is far from ideal, the time out can give you a chance to focus on your online efforts to aid business recovery once this crisis has passed.

Social media: There's a healthy HVAC contractor community on social media, particularly on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you haven't already established these platforms for your business, now could be the chance to do so. A healthy social media presence may encourage greater customer loyalty, greater credibility and more business for your company, so investing some time into getting it right will be invaluable. Look at sharing some of your recent commissions and networking with other contractors - building a presence will be incredibly advantageous when commissions start to come back in.

If you do already have a social media presence for your HVAC business, now could be the time to analyse what is and isn't working. Ensure you've responded to any comments or direct messages, take stock of what posts of yours have done well and devise a simple plan to incorporate more of these posts in future and finally, take a look at competitors to see whether they're using social media in ways which will benefit you when business as usual resumes.

Website: Keeping your website updated can be difficult when you're in the thick of commissions. So if you're faced with business downtime, it is definitely worth reviewing your website and ensuring all information is up-to-date and fresh. This will be particularly beneficial following the COVID-19 crisis when new work starts to come in, as Google will pick up the changes to your website, increasing the likelihood that it'll appear on the first page of search results when companies search for HVAC services.

Key points: Focusing efforts on social media and your website will be extremely useful when attracting new business following the crisis.

Communicating with end-users

Remaining honest, transparent and available to your end-users is important during this time.

Be vocal in outlining the precautions you are taking as a business to minimise the spread of COVID-19, including any new or reinforced hygiene measures as well as social distancing measures. Of course, the situation is changing rapidly day-to-day, so it's worth putting out regular updates too. Social media or emails are going to be most effective in communicating regular updates to your end-users, so be sure to use them to your advantage.

Key points: Communicate regularly to your customers on the hygiene and social distancing steps you're taking.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ's)

To make it easier to find quick answers to the key questions you may have as a business or as an individual, the government have put together an extensive list of FAQ's which you can find below.

FAQ's for businesses and employers.

FAQ's regarding business closures and stay-at-home advice.

FAQ's regarding the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

How we can help you

We value our partners and want you to know that we're with you and supporting you during this time. If you'd like to speak to us directly, please contact any of our local branches and we'd be happy to hear your concerns.

*Please note that this information was correct as of 09.07.2020

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