Coronavirus: The new lockdown rules and what they mean

18th May 2020
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The UK government has announced the first steps to ease the coronavirus lockdown restrictions, following the prime minister’s Sunday night broadcast.

The government’s exit strategy from lockdown is based on a five-tier alert system. The roadmap will be used to measure the threat of the virus, thus determining when lockdown measures can be slowly lifted.

So what does this mean for your practice? Read this article to find out about the different phases of lockdown easing, when your practice could open, and how you can help your practice adjust as lockdown restrictions are eased.

Lockdown easing will be in three phases                 

The prime minister has released the next stages of the government’s coronavirus recovery strategy, which are detailed in its 60-page plan.  

In response to the easing of the coronavirus lockdown here are three steps to be aware of:

Step 1: Effective from 13 May 2020

From Wednesday 13 May 2020, anyone who cannot work from home in England will be allowed to return to work under the government’s plans. Employees should now consider travelling to work if their workplace is open.

Ideally, they should avoid public transport and rush hour (by walking, cycling or travelling by car) when commuting to their office.

This includes people who work in outdoor environments, such as those in construction, manufacturing, distributing, logistics and food production.  There is new government guidance for employees to make these workplaces secure.

In addition, workplaces should be well ventilated and consider allowing staggered start times.

Step 2: Effective from 1 June 2020

A phased reopening of ‘non-essential’ shops and the reopening of schools, starting with children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6.

Step 3: Effective from 4 July 2020

The reopening of personal care businesses – including hairdressers, barbers, and beauty salons – hospitality companies, and leisure facilities may start happening at this point.

Pubs, restaurants, and gyms are likely to be among the last to open their doors.

What the lockdown easing means for your practice

With the emergence from lockdown becoming clearer, you could start putting plans in place for your employees to go back to the workplace.

The government has published eight guides covering different types of work.

In addition to these guides, there are five key points set out by the government that your practice will need to follow if they decide to reopen:

1. Work from home wherever possible

Your practice will need to continue taking reasonable steps to reduce workplace risk. However, if they are employees who can’t work from home and the workplace hasn’t been told to close, they are allowed to go to the workplace.

They will need to speak to applicable staff members about when the workplace will be open (they may find they have back office employees who can work from home and front line staff who need to carry out their roles in the workplace, for example).

2. Adhere to social distancing guidelines

Your practice will need to redesign their company workspaces to maintain social distancing and the requirement for people to be at least 2m apart.

Ways to do this should include staggering start and finish times for staff, creating one-way walkthroughs, opening more entrances and exits, and changing seating layouts in break rooms.

3. Control and manage transmission risk

Your practice will need to investigate putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams that minimise the number of people in contact with one another, and ensure employees are facing away from each other.

4. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment

This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation. Your practice will need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with their staff or trade unions to establish what guidelines to put in place.

If possible, your firm should publish the results of their risk assessments on their company website – the government expects all businesses with more than 50 employees to do this.

5. Reinforce cleaning processes

Lastly, your practice needs to make sure that the workplace is cleaned frequently – and this involves paying close attention to high-contact objects such as computer keyboards and door handles.

Your practice will also have to provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.

A downloadable poster is included in the guides, which can be displayed to show their employees, customers, and visitors that their business has adhered to these five points.

Three tips to help your practice adjust as lockdown restrictions are eased

As your practice starts taking steps to return to the workplace, here are three tips to help your company and colleagues as you make the adjustments.

1. Take advantage of government support measures

If you haven’t done so already, explore the range of government financial support that’s available to your practice.

A series of loans, grants and deferrals are being offered – you’ll need to check which schemes your practice is eligible for – that can help your practice manage cash flow during this uncertain time.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended to October 2020, will help you keep your employees and avoid redundancies.

2. Explore ways to boost your revenue

A lot of practices are likely to have seen a drop in revenue since the lockdown measures were brought in, and your practice could be in a similar situation.

Even with practices having a slightly clearer view of when their workplaces will be opening again so they can trade as near to normal as possible, it is still worth looking at alternative ways to generate revenue.

If you have not done so already, adopting cloud technology can be exceptionally beneficial for many accountancy practices setting up a virtual office and maintaining client relationships.

3. Put a plan in place for your practice

The new guidance around working arrangements may mean you have some colleagues working from home while others are based in the workplace. Putting a plan in place for both parties will help everyone to work safely and productively.

Consider implementing staggered start and finish times for those in the workplace so you can adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Maintain flexible working protocols for your staff who are working from home, especially for those who have children or family members to care for.

Continue to use video conferencing for meetings – both for remote workers and those in the workplace. And keep communicating with your employees on a regular basis, so they are clear on company policies, what’s happening with the business, and other developments that are relevant to them.

For those employees that are required to work within the workplace but don’t want to travel to work or enter the building due to uncertainty around coronavirus, take the time to listen to their concerns.

If it is not possible to put them in a role where they can work from home, using some of their holiday entitlement or unpaid leave could be an option worth considering.

Final thoughts

The emerging details around the government’s plans to ease lockdown are likely to be welcome for your practice but there will be new challenges for you to face.

However, if you keep to the government guidance around the new guidance, you will give your practice the best chance to moving in the right direction. 

During these uncertain times, we’re here to support our accountants and bookkeepers.

Visit our Coronavirus Hub to access free solutions and training to support you and your clients tackle the impact of the virus.