Thursday, 17 December 2020
Department of Finance
Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
289. To ask the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the impact of the pandemic on the outdoor activity business sector, such as an outdoor business (details supplied); if he will consider an extension of the Covid restrictions support scheme to such firms in order to help ensure this sector survive and recover; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44199/20]
290. To ask the Minister for Finance if he will review the Covid restrictions support scheme to allow outdoor activity businesses and the business events industry represented by an association (details supplied) to avail of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44249/20]
306. To ask the Minister for Finance his views on including outdoor activity businesses that do not have a fixed premises in the covid restrictions support scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44558/20]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 289, 290, 293 and 306 together.
The CRSS is a targeted support for businesses significantly impacted by restrictions introduced by the Government under public health Regulations to combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It applies to businesses who, under the specific terms of the regulations, are required to prohibit or significantly restrict members of the public from accessing their business premises, with the result that the business is required to temporarily close or to operate at significantly reduced levels. Support provided under CRSS is intended to enable businesses to meet normal fixed costs associated with their business premises such as rent, insurance, utilities and so on, during the period in which they are subject to such restrictions.
The design and operation of CRSS is centred around the concept of the “business premises” to which access is restricted under the Covid-related public health Regulations. The Regulations apply on a geographical basis and the premises must be located in the relevant geographical area.
For the purposes of CRSS a business premises is defined in the legislation as being “a building or other similar fixed physical structure from which a business activity is ordinarily carried on”.
The legislation further requires that “applicable business restrictions provisions prohibit, or significantly restrict, members of the public from having access to the business premises in which the relevant business activity of the person is carried on”.
Travel restrictions or social distancing measures are not the level of restrictions to which the CRSS refers. It is also not sufficient that a business is experiencing a reduction in demand for its goods or services because of Covid-19. To be eligible to make a claim under CRSS, a business must, under the specific terms of the regulations, be required to either prohibit, or significantly restrict, customers from accessing its business premises.
The Deputies will appreciate that outdoor activity businesses, by their very nature, generally do not provide services in premises to which access is restricted. Therefore, they are not eligible for the CRSS and I have no plans to change this.
The CRSS is an additional measure for businesses in a region subject to significant Covid-19 restrictions. Businesses who do not qualify under this scheme may be entitled to support under various measures put in place by Government, including existing supports available under the COVID Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) and the range of measures announced as part of Budget 2021 to support particular sectors including Tourism and live entertainment. They may also be eligible to warehouse VAT and PAYE (Employer) debts and also excess payments received by employers under the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme, and the balance of Income Tax for 2019 and Preliminary Tax for 2020 for self-assessed taxpayers if applicable.
The purpose of the CRSS is to provide additional support to the businesses who have had to close temporarily or significantly restrict access to their premises as a direct result of public health Regulations . The Government will continue to assess the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy and I will continue to work with Ministerial colleagues to ensure that appropriate supports are in place to mitigate these effects.
291. To ask the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to issues regarding a company (details supplied) and the application and administration of the temporary wage subsidy scheme which has resulted in employees not receiving payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44380/20]
The Irish economy and labour market have undergone an unprecedented shock in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, with nearly every sector negatively impacted either directly or indirectly. In response, the Government introduced the wage subsidy schemes to maintain the link between the employee and employer insofar as is possible, as well as firm viability through a truly exceptional period. To date, over €4bn has been paid out to over 66,500 employers covering over 664,000 jobs in the State: an unprecedented scale to match the unprecedented challenge for our economy. It is recognised that economic outputs are unlikely to return to normal for many businesses in the short-term, and so, the Government remains committed to supporting employers by means of a wage subsidy well into 2021 with additional sums in excess of €1bn expected to be paid out by then.
The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) was in place from 26 March until 31 August 2020 and since then has been replaced by the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) which will be in place until 31 March 2021.
By design, both schemes ultimately provide payments to employers to cover a portion of their wage bill in circumstances where the employer’s business has been negatively impacted by the restrictions that have had to be introduced to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Payments to employers have been made as soon as possible after payroll, typically within 2 working days in order to minimise cashflow concerns.
The decision to take up the scheme is ultimately a matter for the employer, and it is noted that the employer in question was included in the list of employers who availed of the TWSS which was published at the start of November. However, as the Deputy will be aware, Revenue is statutorily bound to confidentiality in respect of taxpayer information and Section 851A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 prohibits Revenue from disclosing taxpayer information.
Therefore my comments relate only in general terms to the operation of the TWSS and the compliance checks conducted by Revenue on all employers who registered for and received funding under TWSS. I would like to assure the Deputy that compliance checks were conducted by Revenue on employers who availed of TWSS to ensure TWSS was operated correctly. I understand that, where any of the relevant criteria is not met, including if the employer received amounts under TWSS and the employer has not paid the subsidy amount to the specified employee, the employer will be required to refund these amounts to Revenue.
I would note that although the employer is expected to make best efforts to maintain as close to 100% of normal pay as possible for the duration of the subsidy period, both schemes are stand-alone measures based on clear and objective criteria that may be administered by the Revenue Commissioners. Issues relating to an individual’s entitlements and rights in an employment context, the wages an employer may be legally obliged to pay employees in respect of hours worked and the employer’s capacity to pay wages to employees are all issues that are outside the remit of the schemes. Those remain a matter between the employee and employer, governed by the relevant law and subject to the various checks and balances in place to ensure fairness to employees and employers.
Individual employees can see the amount of TWSS claimed by their employer on their behalf and included in their wages/salaries by examining their pay slip or by logging on to their Revenue myAccount. Any specific queries in relation to the amount of subsidy received would be best raised by an individual with that individual’s employer.