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What new tier 3 lockdown restrictions mean for UK small businesses

The new three-tier system of Covid-19 restrictions introduced by the UK government last week is now in effect. Needless to say, small businesses are likely to feel a significant impact, especially those in tier 3 areas where the restrictions are tightest.

If you run a small business in a tier 3 area, here’s what the new restrictions mean for you.

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Why were the changes made?

The aim of the three-tier system is to simplify the rules for local lockdowns.

The number of coronavirus cases and hospital admissions has surged in the last few weeks. However, this rise is not uniform across the country, with some areas experiencing higher infection rates than others. 

So instead of putting the whole country under lockdown again, the government has implemented a new Covid Alert Level system. It puts areas of England into different tier levels, each having its own local lockdown restrictions.

What are the tier groups?

Tier 1

This is the ‘medium’ alert level. Most of the country is in tier 1. 

  • National restrictions remain in place, including the ‘rule of six’ (a ban on gatherings of more than six people).
  • Businesses like bars, pubs and restaurants have a 10pm curfew. 

Tier 2

Areas under this tier are ranked as ‘high level’ and will have additional rules.

  • Households should not mix with other households in indoor settings. In outdoor settings such as parks, and even private gardens, the rule of six applies. 
  • People should work from home if possible and only travel if it’s essential. 

Some notable cities under tier 2 include London, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Birmingham,  Preston, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Leicester and Chester.

Tier 3

This is the ‘very high’ alert level, so additional stricter rules will apply.

  • People shouldn’t mix indoors or outdoors in private gardens and hospitality business venues.
  • The rule of six applies in outdoor public places.
  • Pubs and bars that don’t serve meals are closed.
  • People should avoid travelling outside the area, and those outside should avoid travelling in other than for essential activities such as education or work.

At the moment, the only areas under tier 3 restrictions are the Liverpool City Region (Liverpool, Knowsley, St. Helens, Wirral, Sefton and Halton) and Lancashire, including Blackpool and Blackburn-with Darwen.

Note, however, that these alert levels might change based on coronavirus infection rates. It’s therefore a good idea to keep track of which alert level applies to your area as the situation can change quickly. 

What do the changes mean for small businesses?

The restrictions in each tier group will have different implications for small businesses. Businesses in tier 3 are likely to feel the biggest impact due to the stricter rules.

At the moment, for example, all pubs and bars in tier 3 areas must close, unless they also serve meals. 

The government has additionally made it clear that following consultation with local authorities, it might also decide to close other types of small businesses, such as leisure centres and gyms, performing arts venues (e.g. fitness and dance studios) and personal care services (e.g. salons and barbershops).

In Liverpool, the government has already announced the closure of leisure centres, gyms, casinos and betting shops. Lancashire has ordered the closure of casinos, bingo halls, bookmakers and betting shops, adult gaming centres and soft play areas.

Essential small business like supermarkets and restaurants are likely to remain open. However, they might still be affected by travel restrictions.

Generally speaking, if you’re in a tier 3 region, there is no telling if and when you might have to close your business. The main thing you can do now, as a small business owner, is to prepare yourself financially as you wait for normality to return.

What help can I get if my small business closes?

If you receive instructions to close your business, don’t panic. Financial support is available from the government. You can apply for:

  • Job Support Scheme – which has been expanded to protect jobs and support businesses forced to close their doors due to coronavirus restrictions.
  • Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme – which helps small and medium-sized businesses access loans and other kinds of finance of up to £5 million.
  • Coronavirus Bounce Back Loan Scheme – which allows businesses to access finance quicker during this coronavirus outbreak (between £2,000 and up to 25% of your business turnover).
  • Local Restrictions Support Grant – which offers support for small businesses that were open as usual and providing services in-person to customers from their premises, but that were required to close due to local lockdown restrictions.

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