Covid: Grants for businesses hit by Omicron - who is eligible and how can you apply?

Seasonal freedom comes at a cost of uncertainty about what will happen afterwards, ITV News' Deputy Politics Editor Anushka Asthana reports

After demands from businesses impacted by the rise of Omicron for support, the Chancellor has announced a billion-pound fund to support the hardest-hit firms - but who qualifies and is it enough?

Rishi Sunak announced the new "generous" measures to help the arts and hospitality industries.

The Chancellor said: "I will always respond proportionately and appropriately to the situation that we face, people can have confidence in that," adding he was not ruling out more support in the future.

Many businesses have said their custom has dropped massively in the few weeks Omicron has been in the UK and have called for support.

Hospitality UK has said many businesses have lost 40-60% of their December trade.

The new schemes announced today will only apply to England, but the other three nations of the UK have all received a funding boost and it will be down to them to decide on how to allocate the support.

Christmas is usually the busiest time of the year for the hospitality sector Credit: PA

Where will the money go?

A large chunk of the money is earmarked for the cultural, hospitality and leisure industries which have all complained of a drop in customers in recent weeks.

Some of the support will also go to businesses that supply these industries.

There is also support for small and medium businesses struggling to cover the sick pay of people isolating with Covid.

What's being offered to the hospitality sector?

The hospitality sector has been hit hard by the sudden wave of Omicron spreading through the UK, at time a time that is usually one of the most profitable of the year.

As a result, the government is offering the hospitality sector one-off grants of £6,000 per premise.

The government claims this is a similar amount to what was offered per month to pubs and restaurants when they were forced to close during lockdown, despite them still being open.

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However, the other support packages, mainly furlough that paid the wages of staff who couldn't work, is not being brought back.

The government says around 200,000 businesses will be eligible for the grants.

This is also being applied to leisure facilities like swimming pools.

What about suppliers?

Other businesses being impacted by Omicron, like those who supply pubs, that may be suffering as an indirect result of the surge in cases will be able to apply for an Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG).

£100m is being added to the already established scheme and it will be administered through local authorities.

Local councils can determine which businesses to support and determine the amount of funding provided by the ARG scheme.

What about businesses impacted by large numbers of people off with Covid?

The government is reintroducing the Statutory Sick Pay Rebate Scheme for businesses with fewer than 250 employees.

The scheme reimburses businesses that have paid statutory sick pay to employees who have been off with Covid for up to a maximum of two weeks.

The chancellor did not rule out further support should more restrictions be imposed

The scheme was closed in September, as the economy opened up again, but has now been reactivated and firms will be able to make their claims from mid-January.

Statutory sick pay in the UK is the minimum businesses can pay you if you're too ill to work.

It is currently set at £96.35 per week, one of the lowest levels in the developed world.

How will the cultural sector get support?

A further £30 million is being added to the Culture Recovery Fund to support organisations such as theatres, orchestras and museums through the winter to March 2022.

The fund is handled by both local authorities and cultural institutions like the Arts Council.

Cultural centres can apply for support through them if they have been impacted by the pandemic.

What about the devolved administrations?

As part of the newly announced package, the devolved administrations will receive around £150 million of funding, which equals around £80 million for the Scottish Government, £50 million for the Welsh Government and £25 million for the Northern Ireland Executive.Are there any other schemes from the previous lockdowns that still apply?

The business rates relief that was implemented at the start of the pandemic is still in effect, meaning most firms who pay the tax are seeing around a 75% reduction in their bill.

The reduced VAT rate for hospitality and tourism is also still in place until the end of March.

Businesses also cannot be evicted from their premises if they're behind on rent until March.

There is also a variety of cheap support loans still available.