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A helping hand for businesses

This page contains information for Westminster businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The easiest way to find out what financial support is available to you is through the government's online help tool.

Find financial support at GOV.UK

More on coronavirus: Westminster Connects, residents, updates, Westminster reopens.

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1. Leader's letter to the government - 21 August 2020

Reopening the West End

Westminster City Council has sent out a clear rallying call for coordinated and decisive action that needs to be delivered in order to reopen the West End successfully.

In a letter to Robert Jenrick MP, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Leader of the Council, Cllr Rachael Robathan, has called for joint support in key areas to enable the successful and safe reopening of central London as the engine of the UK economy.

Cllr Robathan said: “Westminster Council has always been quick to support our businesses and communities proactively throughout this pandemic with a number of eye catching and effective initiatives. We have welcomed the very significant Government support for the business sector and remain absolutely committed to working constructively with all partners who have an interest in the long-term success of the West End. It’s vital that we all pull in the same direction, coordinate our activity and are given the flexibilities we have requested in order to reopen the West End safely, which is such a key driver for the London and UK economy.”  

Read the full letter to the Secretary of State (PDF, 183KB)

2. Reopening safely

From 15 June, further businesses including non-essential retail are allowed to reopen. If you are unsure whether this includes your business please check GOV.UK guidance as this identifies which premises must remain closed (including exceptions). The council will continue to keep this advice updated in line with the release of any further government guidance and as best practice is developed.

Apply for a pavement licence to use outdoor space

We also understand that businesses will have limited capacity due to social distancing. The government has introduced a new pavement licence to help bars and restaurants use outdoor space.

Signage toolkit

The council has produced a toolkit to help your business open and operate safely. It will be crucial to the successful recovery of the city that we support customers to follow the guidelines set by government to ensure we do not risk a resurgence of coronavirus cases. 

You can download the full toolkit as a zipped file from WeTransfer (with individual assets) or you can download the toolkit in PDF format (5.7MB). The toolkit contains:

  • floor stickers 
  • food stickers
  • queue posters
  • sanitizer signs
  • window stickers
  • shop local
  • full asset toolkit


The council has produced a detailed guide to support businesses reviewing queuing arrangements for their respective premises, taking into account social distancing measures. Queuing arrangements will need to consider a number of factors and we have outlined what you will need to consider in planning your implementation. Download the guide (PDF, 300KB)

Free bespoke support and guidance

As businesses continue to reopen, the Westminster Business Unit is offering bespoke support if you need help and guidance on a range of issues, including getting advice on preparing for reopening. Please email or call us on 020 7641 2070 and we will be happy to help you and/or put you in contact with the appropriate team.

Moving around Westminster

Temporary measures have been implemented across Westminster to safely support the easing of the lockdown and get the economy moving again. As Westminster reopens, we've been increasing pedestrian space for social distancing, and also creating additional cycling facilities to help people move around safely. Barriers have been installed to widen pavements across Westminster to encourage safer walking and cycling. Check out our list of temporary measures that are in place across Westminster to help people move around the city.

Keep staff safe on public transport

Transport for London (TfL) has published advice for businesses across London as national restrictions on movement are gradually lifted. Measures to help enable social distancing wherever possible are being put in place. Download TfL’s advice for businesses. Everyone that can work from home should continue to do so.

General workplace guidance for reopening

Businesses that are reopening must now consider how to ensure that their workplaces are safe for customers and workers. The government has produced detailed workplace-specific guidance to help ensure workplaces are as safe as possible, as well as further guidance for the retail sector on how they can reopen and operate safely to protect their staff and customers. See GOV.UK for full guidance.

For further resources on businesses reopening and the safety in the workplace please see the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health or the Health and Safety Executive.

Fire safety

With many businesses now looking at reopening, and adapting how they work to incorporate social distancing it's crucial fire safety needs are considered alongside these changes. Visit London Fire Brigade


Water system stagnation due to lack of use needs to be managed to prevent problems upon reinstatement or return to use. Different types of water systems may require different precautions to be applied to manage the high risk of Legionella. It’s vital that all premises with a water system have an active programme in place to control the growth of Legionella bacteria and so ensure the safety of their employees, guests and other people, as well as the businesses’ reputation. Learn more about how to manage your water system

Food businesses

The Food Standards Agency has guidance for food businesses looking to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sector guidance has been provided to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely in the food sector.

Further guidance has also been produced to assist Food Business Operators when a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the workplace results in a requirement to cease operations.

The council has issued additional advice for businesses converting to takeaway use - download our guide (PDF, 255KB).

Working safely

For guidance to help employers, employees and the self-employed understand how to work safely during the coronavirus pandemic, visit GOV.UK

Deep cleaning service and PPE disposal

We have a special disinfection service for businesses looking to reopen and maintain a high standard. The disinfection service minimises risk to employees and customers to provide essential safety reassurance. Where people come into contact with potentially contaminated surfaces, our solution eradicates the health and safety risks associated with confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 at your sites.

We also have a range of information on disposal of PPE and support for businesses around resuming their collections on our clean streets hub.

3. Hospitality businesses

The council has issued additional guidance for businesses in the hospitality sector (PDF, 746KB).

This guidance document seeks to provide information and guidance to businesses within the hospitality sector. It should not be read in isolation and businesses are encouraged to continue to take note of Government’s, other agencies’ and industry associations’ advice.

This guidance consolidates a number of documents that were produced prior to the opening of the hospitality sector. It has also been updated to reflect the new Business and Planning Act 2020 which relaxed the provision of off-sales in alcohol licensed premises for the purposes of outside service and introduced a new fast-track Pavement Licensing regime.

It is essential that businesses continue to operate in a responsible and Covid secure way. Businesses should have reviewed and implemented the Government’s guidance on minimising the risks and operating in a Covid secure way.

4. Promote your local business

As part of the wide range of initiatives to support the local economy during the pandemic, Westminster City Council has launched a new and interactive online map for residents and others to quickly and easily find out what shops are open for business, either physically open or offering online services.

Whilst we don’t wish to exclude any Westminster businesses from taking part, initially we want to focus on shops or takeaways. We are particularly keen to hear from those that are currently open, operating and delivering from local high streets and neighbourhoods. Our primary focus is ensuring the safety of our community and every business taking part will need to set out the measures that they are taking to ensure compliance with all social distancing rules.

Send information relating to your business

Take a look the our new interactive map to find out about local shops open across Westminster.

5. Financial capability and wellbeing support

The major economic adjustment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in real hardship to individuals and families. The City Council is deeply concerned about the impact of this on individuals and households and has scaled up the number of Financial Capability & Wellbeing Advisers available to support individuals experiencing a change in financial circumstances at this difficult time.

Whatever your circumstances, whether an employee experiencing a drop in income, at risk of redundancy or recently unemployed or perhaps a self-employed individual ineligible for the Government’s Income Support for the Self-employed Scheme or Furlough Scheme our Financial Capability & Wellbeing Advisers will support you to identify what alternative sources of financial support you may be eligible for and guide you through any required application process or support you to access other relevant organisations / services. They can help with:

  • Income maximisation (benefits take-up, employment support to get a job, in-work support and progression to get a better paid job)
  • Cost reduction (negotiating payment arrangements, support with finding the best price or making sure the correct service is received for the price paid)
  • Homelessness prevention (understanding of the housing process and law, support to find private rented sector or alternative accommodation, rent prioritisation)
  • Debt advice (linking to services, debt prioritisation and payment planning)

We know that for many people the current Coronavirus situation may result in feelings of anxiety, loneliness or depression. This is exacerbated for those who are also facing the stress and worry of mounting financial pressures. Our Financial Capability & Wellbeing Advisers are also able to provide advice on how to look after your mental health and wellbeing at this time and information on where to find support.

The team work with the utmost discretion only sharing information on a need to know basis in line with GDPR. All support offered is discussed exclusively with the consenting client and or parties nominated by the client.

Please use this e-booking form to request an appointment.

6. Grants

The Council has completed the listing of businesses that were eligible for a government grant under the Small Business and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure schemes. We have paid out grants totalling £80M to nearly 4,500 businesses. There remain some individual cases where we are awaiting further information from the business and/or from the Valuation Office. 

If you believe that a business is eligible for a grant and has not yet received one, then please contact the Council using the details shown on your business rate bill. 

For the latest guidance on grants that your business may be entitled to please visit the government's business site. 

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

All UK employers are able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those employees that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis. HMRC will pay employers a grant worth 80% of an employee’s usual wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that subsidised wage.  

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is now live - make an application online 

Discretionary Grant Fund

The Discretionary Grant Fund has now closed. The closing date for businesses to submit additional evidence to support their existing application was midnight on Tuesday 30 June 2020.

Those who are assessed as meeting the eligibility criteria will be prioritised for grants based on the evaluation process. Successful applicants will be awarded a £10,000 grant from within the council’s funding allocation that has come from central government. We anticipate making a decision on the applications by the end of July.

The total fund allocated from central government is £3.995M and we have the capacity to distribute 400 grants. Organisations that are awarded grants under the scheme will each be awarded a grant of £10,000, irrespective of whether they would have qualified for £10,000 or £25,000 under the main grant scheme if they had a unit of occupation within the Valuation List.

7. Tax and rates

Business rates holiday

If you are a hospitality, leisure, retail or nursery business central Government has announced a 12-month business rates (NNDR) holiday for the 2020 to 2021 tax year. If your business occupies a property in the retail sector, or in the leisure or hospitality sectors you will be eligible for the 100% discount on your business rates bill. 

There is no need to contact the council as we will be amending your account and will issue a communication confirming the position in due course. For the latest guidance please visit the Governments business site.

Deferring VAT and Income Tax payments 

Valued Added Tax (VAT) payments are deferred for 3 months. If you’re self-employed, Income Tax payments due in July 2020 under the Self-Assessment system will be deferred to January 2021. For VAT, the deferral will apply from 20 March 2020 until 30 June 2020.  All UK businesses are eligible.  

This is an automatic offer with no applications required. Businesses will not need to make a VAT payment during this period. Taxpayers will be given until the end of the 2020 to 2021 tax year to pay any liabilities that have accumulated during the deferral period. VAT refunds and reclaims will be paid by the government as normal.  

For Income Tax Self-Assessment, payments due on the 31 July 2020 will be deferred until the 31 January 2021.  If you are self-employed you are eligible. This is an automatic offer with no applications required.  No penalties or interest for late payment will be charged in the deferral period.  

HMRC have also scaled up their Time to Pay offer to all firms and individuals who are in temporary financial distress as a result of Covid-19 and have outstanding tax liabilities.  

Time to Pay Service  

All businesses and self-employed people in financial distress, and with outstanding tax liabilities, may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. 

These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. 

You are eligible if your business: 

  • pays tax to the UK government 
  • has outstanding tax liabilities 

If you have missed a tax payment or you might miss your next payment due to COVID-19, please call HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 0159 559.

8. Loans and cashflow

Small business loans

Businesses can apply for the Bounce Back Loans up to a maximum of £50,000, or 25% of turnover, with the Government paying the interest for the first 12 months.  

The loans are available now and the Government will support lending by guaranteeing 100% of the loan. 

More information about Bounce Back Loans can be found here. 

Business Interruption Loan Scheme 

The Coronavirus business loan interruption scheme is designed to support small-or medium-sized business in England if their business has been interrupted due to the COVID-19 outbreak.  

The government will also make a Business Interruption Payment to cover the first 12 months of interest payments and any lender-levied fees, so smaller businesses will benefit from no upfront costs and lower initial repayments. 

The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80% on each loan (subject to pre-lender cap on claims) to give lenders further confidence in continuing to provide finance to SMEs. The government will not charge businesses or banks for this guarantee, and the Scheme will support loans of up to £5 million in value. The first 12 months of these loans will be interest free, as the government will cover these payments. The scheme will be delivered through commercial lenders, backed by the government-owned British Business Bank. 

There are 40 accredited lenders able to offer the scheme, including all the major banks. 

You are eligible for the scheme if: 

  • your business is UK based, with a turnover of no more than £45 million per year 
  • your business meets the other British Business Bank eligibility criteria 

To apply, you should talk to your bank or one of the 40 accredited finance providers found here ( as soon as possible, to discuss your business plan.

The scheme is now open for applications. All major banks are offering this scheme. 

The full rules of the scheme and the list of accredited lenders are available on the British Business Bank website. 

If you have an existing loan with monthly repayments you may want to ask for a repayment holiday to help with cash flow. 

Read the government’s advice on taking advantage of the scheme

For further information, please visit the British Business Bank website

Large Business Cash Flow Issues 

If you are a large business facing cash flow issues as a result of COIVD-19, you may want to read the following information:  

  • Companies commonly sell short term debt (‘commercial paper’) to the market. This is a quick and cost effective to raise working capital.   
  • The new COVID-19 Corporate Financing Facility means that the Bank of England will buy short term debt from companies.  
  • This will support companies which are fundamentally strong, but have been affected by a short-term funding squeeze, enabling them to continue financing their short-term liabilities. It will also support corporate finance markets overall and ease the supply of credit to all firms.  

Further details can be found in the exchange of letters between the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor, on the GOV.UK website. 

9. Legislation and insurance

Pubs and restaurants 

If you own or operate a pub or wine bar, or a dine-in restaurant or cafe then you are now able to operate a hot and cold food takeaway service without going through the usual planning process. Food safety and facilities must be adequate for the change of use and will be monitored. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has legislated to bring forward a temporary (maximum 12 months) Permitted Development Right to allow for a change of use from A3 (cafe/restaurant) and A4 (pub/ wine bar) to A5 (hot food takeaway). 

If you are intending to operate as a takeaway then you are required to notify the Council that you are operating without any prior approval. Operators may also have to notify their landlords to operate in this way, depending upon their lease arrangements. When the takeaway use stops (on or before 23 March 2021) the land and buildings return to their former lawful use.

Please visit our planning information page for the latest updates.

Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) 

If you are a small or medium-sized business, you may be entitled to reclaim the costs of statutory sick pay for sickness absence due to COVID-19.  

This refund will cover up to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who is either ill or been told to self-isolate because of COVID-19. This is in line with the recommended isolation period.  

Employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible. The size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020.  

Employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19.  

Employers should maintain records of staff absences, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note.  

The eligible period for the scheme began on 13 March.  

The government will work with employers over the coming months to set up the repayment mechanism for employers as soon as possible. Existing systems are not designed to facilitate employer refunds for SSP.  

For the latest guidance please visit the Government site

Contracting your services outside of the public sector 

The government announced on 17 March that the reform to the off-payroll working rules (commonly known as IR35) - that would have applied for people contracting their services to large or medium-sized organisations outside the public sector - will be delayed for one year from 6 April 2020 until 6 April 2021.


If the only barrier to your business making an insurance claim was a lack of clarity on whether the government advising people to stay away from businesses, rather than ordering businesses to shut down, was enough to make a claim on business interruption insurance:  

  • The government’s medical advice of 16 March is sufficient to enable those businesses which have an insurance policy that covers both pandemics and government ordered closure to make a claim - provided all other terms and conditions in their policy are met. Businesses should check the terms and conditions of their specific policy and contact their providers if in doubt.  
  • However, most businesses have not purchased insurance that covers pandemic related losses. As such, any affected businesses should note the government’s full package of support, including the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme and business rates holiday. 

Please liaise with your insurance provider.

Business Improvement Districts (BID) ballots  

To ensure that Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are equipped to continue their role in managing the impact of the crisis on local economies and helping town centres and high streets recover.  

To ensure that no area loses its BID at this critical time, government emergency legislation will allow a delay to ballots between now and 31 December 2020 until March 2021. 

The new government assistance with business rates does not apply to the BID levies raised by the borough’s BIDs

10. Self employed

Time to Pay

If you are self-employed or own a business and you are concerned about not being able to pay your tax bills because of COVID-19, you may be eligible for support through Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ (HMRC) Time to Pay service:

• These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. 

If you think you or your business is eligible for support through Time to Pay, you can call the following helpline number to get practical help and advice: 0800 0159 559.  For more information, please check the HMRC website.

Self-employment Income Support Scheme  

The Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) will support self-employed individuals (including members of partnerships) whose income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. The scheme will provide a grant to self-employed individuals or partnerships, worth 80% of their profits up to a cap of £2,500 per month. 

HMRC will use the average profits from tax returns in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 to calculate the size of the grant. The scheme will be open to those where the majority of their income comes from self-employment and who have profits of less than £50,000. The scheme will be open for an initial three months with people able to make their first claim by the beginning of June. 

For more information on the scheme please visit the business support site.

Last updated: 26 August 2020