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Tom Maguire discusses the CRSS, CRiSiS planning and looking forward to a new dawn in 2021

I wrote a column a while back on the advent of the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (CRSS) which was brought about by the Budget with the detail being part of the Finance Bill which is currently making its way through the legislative process. In a nutshell, CRSS provides for the payment of an amount equal to 10% of average weekly turnover in 2019 up to €20,000 and 5% thereafter, subject to a maximum weekly payment of €5,000, for each week that a business is affected, subject to T’s and C’s, by the Covid restrictions. To date, and according to Revenue’s website, claims have been made for CRSS payments of €79.3 million in respect of 13,800 premises.

Revenue recently provided some timely reminders in connection with the scheme. There is an eight-week time limit within which eligible businesses can make their claim for payment under the CRSS. This time limit applies from the first day of a claim period which in most cases will be the first day on which public health restrictions apply to the relevant business. Revenue reminded eligible businesses of the importance of registering for the CRSS and making their claim as soon as possible to avoid losing out on the full benefit of this support. If you’re eligible then you should consider the claim now.

Revenue highlight the urgency by saying that businesses who leave making their CRSS registration application to “the last-minute” risk that it may not be completed within the eight-week time period for making a claim for payment. They explain that this might arise, for example, where Revenue requires additional information to complete the registration or confirm eligibility for the scheme. Revenue has confirmed that once the business has applied to be registered within the eight-week time period, and has provided the additional information requested, it will still be able to make a claim for payment under the CRSS within three weeks of the registration process being completed.

The CRSS is part of a suite of important measures that are available to businesses and therefore should be consulted as part of that business’s CRiSiS planning.

Right now we’ve seen an easing of public health restrictions in the run up to Christmas. As we know, all non-essential retail and personal services can open. Restaurants, cafés and the so called gastro-pubs operating as restaurants can open. Revenue explain that where businesses can reopen without having to disallow or significantly restrict access to their premises as explained in the relevant public health regulations, then they no longer qualify for CRSS. Additionally, businesses that can reopen but decide not to do so won’t be eligible for CRSS for the periods where they choose to remain closed.

The Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe recently announced an enhancement to the CRSS whereby businesses can make a claim for an additional one-week payment to assist them in reopening after a period of Covid restrictions. Businesses who are registered for CRSS and are now resuming their trading activities can make their claim for this additional payment from last Monday via Revenue’s Online Service (ROS).

However, Revenue goes on to explain that some businesses such as “‘wet’ pubs, nightclubs, discos and casinos nationwide” are still required to either prohibit access to their premises or remain fully closed. These businesses still qualify for CRSS, and provided all other eligibility conditions are met, can continue to claim payment under the scheme for this new claim period.

The Minister for Finance also announced additional seasonal support for businesses who cannot reopen through December. Payable for a period of three weeks beginning 21 December 2020, the additional support will provide up to double the amount of the weekly CRSS support payment due, subject to the statutory maximum payment of €5,000 per week. At the time of writing, Revenue is currently working on ensuring the system is in place for these businesses to make their claim by the week of 21 December.

On a separate and seasonal note, Revenue have recently issued their Covid19 guidance for “virtual” Christmas parties. They explain that a Benefit In Kind, which would be taxable on the employee, “will not arise where an employer incurs reasonable costs in hosting a virtual seasonal party for their employees. Reasonable costs include costs typically incurred in hosting a face-to-face event. This includes the cost of delivering or providing food and drink to employees in advance of, or during, the event. Vouchers provided to enable employees to purchase food or drink for the event are not included. Such vouchers will be taxable unless they are covered by the small benefit exemption. The event must be open to all employees”.

It’s been reported recently that we can expect to see tax increases in our future as a result of what we’ve been through. Okay we’ve all been expecting that but these increases should be appropriately designed so that they shouldn’t interfere with an appropriate exit from what I’ve been calling the Jurassic Economy. I think JK Rowling put it well in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when one of the characters explains “…there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right”, so let’s choose wisely here.

This is my last column until 2021 and 2020 has been a hell of a year, so I hope you’ll allow me a personal note. This week’s news of vaccines made me think of the 1998 movie “Deep Impact” where Morgan Freeman played the US president and utters the lines I have copied below. If you, in your mind’s eye, replace the words “the waters” below with “the virus” then you will understand that it is my sincerest hope that we will hear such a speech someday in the not too distant future:

“The waters reached as far inland as the Ohio and Tennessee Valleys. It washed away farms and towns, forests, skyscrapers, but the waters receded. The wave hit Europe and Africa, too… but the waters receded. Cities fall, but they are rebuilt. And heroes die, but they are remembered. We honour them with every brick we lay, with every field we sow, with every child we comfort and then teach to rejoice in what we have been re-given: our planet, our home. So, now, let us begin.”

Happy Christmas to you and yours and see you on the other side.

Please note this article first featured in the Business Post on 13 December 2020 and was re-published kindly with their permission on our website.

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