As the pandemic continues, so too does the uncertainty for businesses across the country. HVAC companies and the wider construction industry are highly likely to have felt the impact. We know many of our partners will be faced with 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 when this crisis has passed.

How could COVID-19 impact 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. 

Obviously, as a novel situation for everyone, it's difficult to know exactly how your business will be affected, and there are multiple scenarios which may pan out.

The last two months of lockdown has seen scheduled jobs being cancelled due to not being essential, or because end-users are experiencing their own difficulties. This has left many HVAC businesses in financial difficulty.

Mitsubishi Electric Air Conditioning Wall Mounted in Lobby 1

Building owners have also been working from home or in self-isolation, or HVAC installers themselves have been doing the same, meaning work has been delayed until business resumes.

Either way, circumstances continue to change rapidly and it's difficult to anticipate what will happen week to week.

Exterior of office buildings with a large pond

Keeping your HVAC business going

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 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. It has been suggested that wages covered will be backdated to March 1st and it has now been extended to the end of June.

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 (at of 26.03.2020) suggests that VAT payments due between 20th March and 30th June will be deferred for 3 months. The Government advice explains that this is automatically applied to all VAT registered businesses, implying that no applications are required and businesses will then be given until the end of the financial year in 2021 to repay these bills (but please ensure that you check the Government guidance website carefully for any changes and/or updates). 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: Government advice states that your VAT payments will automatically be deferred for 3 months and directs you discuss VAT concerns on 0800 0159 559.

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 - 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. Although Govenment advice suggests that employees are not required to provide a GP fit note to be eligible for SSP, as an employer you should maintain records of staff absences and any SSP payments and continue to check the Government website for any changes or updates. 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. Although the process is not available yet, the Government will be working with employers over the coming months to begin repayments as soon as possible. Please note that your business must employ fewer than 250 employees to be eligible.

Key points: Record staff absences and payments of SSP, isolation notes can be obtained from NHS 111 online, only applicable for businesses with fewer than 250 employees.

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. To ensure the scheme supports those who need it most, 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. The Government has proposed the scheme should be accessible no later than June, with HMRC contacting you if you're eligible. Please note that if you missed the tax return deadline in January 2020, the Government is allowing you 4 weeks from the 26th March to complete your filing. There is a frequently asked questions page regarding this scheme.

Key points: HMRC will contact eligible self-employed workers when the scheme is available. You have 4 weeks from March 26th to complete your tax return if you missed the deadline in January.

Deferred Income Tax payments:

The Government have 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.

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.

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 latest Government announcement, the country is currently at stage four alert level but is in the process of moving into stage three. This is a conditional process depending on the reproduction rate of the virus.

As per Wednesday 13th May, the advice is to stay alert. This means staying at home as much as possible - although you will be able to take more and even unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise. It will also be possible to sit in the local park, drive to other destinations and play sports, although only with members of your own household.

Social distancing rules are still in place, meaning you should stay 2 metres away from other people where possible and wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you get home.

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 guidancefrom the government. For these individuals, public transport should be avoided, travelling by car, bicycle or by walking where you are able to.

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 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 have 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.

Please note that you should still stay at home as much as possible, regardless of whether you or someone you live with is showing coronavirus symptoms.

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

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 21.05.2020

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