Coronavirus: Organisational and Employment FAQs

Information correct at 27th March 2020
The Museums Association is working in close partnership with other sector bodies to make the case for urgent and practical help to the museums sector and those who work in and with museums. We are providing advice to the sector on this page and will continue to update the contents as the situation develops – if you have further questions or want to help us to increase and improve this advice, please get in touch: 

For organisations

1. How do I access government support to pay my staff?

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers will be 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. Employers need to:

  • Designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify employees of this change. Changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation; and
  • Submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal. HMRC will set out details on the information required.
  • HMRC will reimburse 80% of furloughed workers wage costs up to a cap of £2,500 per month.
  • HMRC are working to set up a system for reimbursement. Existing systems are not set up to facilitate payments to employers. If your business needs short term cash flow support, you may be eligible for a Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan.

If your staff have to take sick leave due to the current outbreak, the government will allow small-and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for up to 2 weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19.
2. My museum is a charitable organisation. What help is available?

Amongst the different types of museums, independent charities are generally the most exposed to the financial impacts of the coronavirus, as they tend to be most reliant on earned income.

Charities are eligible for a range of government support announced by the Chancellor:

- The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan scheme will provide loans of up to £5m to businesses, with the government covering interest payments and fees for the first 12 months.

- There is direct support for leisure businesses (including independent museums) via:

  • A Business Rates holiday for museums in England for the year from April 2020. This will apply automatically and will not require any action. Equivalent measures on business rates have been taken in Scotland; Wales; and Northern Ireland.
  • Cash grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses (including independent museums) in England. Organisations with a rateable value of between £15,000-£51,000 will automatically receive a grant of £25,000, while businesses with a rateable value of under £15,000 will receive £10,000 in grant funding. You do not need to take any action to access this grant. Local authorities will contact businesses soon with details of the grant. 
  • Small businesses that already receive Small Businesses Rate Relief of Rural Rate Relief will get a grant of £10,000. 
  • Businesses will also be supported by deferring Valued Added Tax (VAT) payments for 3 months. This is an automatic offer. 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. 
  • The government is also showing flexibility on tax payments for businesses affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. 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. If you have missed a tax payment or you might miss your next payment due to COVID-19, you can call HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 0159 559.

- In England, your museum may be able to take advantage of support from one of the new emergency funding streams announced by Arts Council England.

Some independent museums have highlighted that loans are not appropriate at present, as boards of trustees are not willing to take on extra debt for their organisations. The MA is lobbying government for an improved system of grants at present.

3. My museum is run by a public body. What help is available to my museum?

Museums that are funded by government departments, Arms-Length Bodies or local authorities (or a combination of these) have experienced an almost total loss of earned income due to the coronavirus outbreak.

However, this group of museums is not eligible for the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan. Museums in this category are expected to discuss with their parent bodies what measures need to be taken to maintain the viability of the service and the protection of museum sites and collections.

In England, your museum may be able to take advantage of support from one of the new emergency funding streams announced by Arts Council England.

4. My museum runs grant-funded programmes. What should I do about these?

Many grant funders have responded to the crisis quickly and are keen to show flexibility in the terms of existing grants. We recommend that you get in touch with your individual grant provider to discuss any changes that may be required.

Major grant funders
National Lottery Heritage Fund has made a statement promising flexibility and highlighting that applications for funding are still open:

Arts Council England has made a statement promising that it will refocus some grant programmes to help compensate individual artists and freelancers for lost earnings; and will be relaxing National Portfolio Organisation (NPO), National Lottery Project Grants and Creative People and Places (CPP) funding conditions. They will provide further detail on how this will happen in the coming days, and will be contacting NPO and CPP grant recipients to discuss their situations. ACE will provide further updates on its website here:

Museums Galleries Scotland has issued a statement for museums in Scotland here:

Northern Ireland Museums Council is updating its website with news on the coronavirus here:

Welsh Government has not yet made any official announcement about support for museums in Wales. Its website is here:

Art Fund has set out a range of responses to the coronavirus here:

The Museums Association’s Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund is still open to applicants. News on the fund can be found here:

5. How does my organisation apply for financial help?

Some of the emergency measures to support businesses and other organisations are automatic. As long as your organisation is eligible for a business rate holiday; a cash grant of £10,000 or £25,000; and VAT deferral, these will be applied to your organisation automatically and you do not need to take any further action. Your local authority will get in touch with you with details of how the business rate holiday and cash grants will be applied.

For Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans, organisations should apply directly to one of the British Business Bank’s 40+ accredited lenders, which are listed on the British Business Bank website here. In the first instance, businesses should approach their own provider – ideally via the lender’s website. They may also consider approaching other lenders if they are unable to access the finance they need.

In England, your museum may be able to take advantage of support from one of the new emergency funding streams announced by Arts Council England. Details of how to access this support will be made available on the ACE website in the near future.

6. What support is there to maintain and secure museum sites and collections?

Every museum should have an emergency plan to secure sites and collections. This should be enacted at this time, with clear advice to staff around social distancing.

The MA has advised that : “Clearly our paramount responsibility is the health of our staff and our communities and we would advise currently that all staff should be working from home apart from those dealing with critical security, estates and collections matters with careful social distancing and lone working practices in place.”

The MA is advocating to governments and key funders for specific emergency funding that will allow museums to maintain sites and collections during the coronavirus outbreak.

The MA is also working with Accreditation bodies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to clarify how the Accreditation Scheme and Government Indemnity Scheme will continue to run during this time.

For individuals

1. I am a museum employee. Will I still get paid?

You may continue to perform your duties as an employee either on site (if absolutely required for site or collections security) or from home. You may be given new duties to perform if you are not able to do your normal work remotely. If you work in a larger organisation, such as a local authority or university, you may be given new duties in a department outside of the museum.

The government has announced it will pay wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme if your organisation is forced to temporarily close or reduce its activities because of coronavirus.

This will be available to anyone on the PAYE scheme (permanent or fixed contract) and your employer will need to contact HMRC to apply. In order for you to qualify, your employer will have to re-assign your employment status as a furloughed worker’. When you are a ‘furloughed worker’ you cannot undertake any work for the organisation.

The scheme will pay 80 percent of retained workers’ salaries, up to £2,500 a month. Your employer can top up your salary to more than this if they choose to.

Wages under the scheme will be backdated to 1 March and the scheme will be open for at least three months. There is no limit on amount of funding and the government will pay grants to support as many jobs as necessary.

The first of the grants are hoped to be paid before the end of April so it could take a few weeks to get your money.

The 80% wage guarantee will not cover zero-hour contracts or casual workers, unless they work on the PAYE system.

The self-employed are also not covered although easier access to benefits will apply to them. This includes removing the income floor for universal credit and moving the application process to an online and telephone process.

There is further guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme here:

2. I have already been made redundant because of the Coronavirus crisis. What support is there for me?

If you have been made redundant due to the coronavirus, you should contact your employer to see if they are now willing to take you back on and reassign you as a furloughed worker.

If you have already made a claim for benefits, contact the relevant benefit helpline for advice on what to do before you cancel your claim.

If you have already received a redundancy payment and your employer could now take you back on, speak to your employer or the ACAS helpline for advice on what to do.

3. I am a freelancer. What government help can I access?

There are a range of measures that have been set out by government for self-employed people to date.

Self-Employment Income Support Scheme
Announced 26 March

  • The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme allows you to claim a taxable cash grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months (to May). This may be extended if needed.
  • The scheme covers 95% of people who receive the majority of their income from self-employment.
  • To be eligible, you must have submitted an Income Tax Self Assessment tax return for the tax year 2018-19 and traded in the tax year 2019-20.
  • The scheme will be open to those with a trading profit of less than £50,000 in 2018-19 or an average trading profit of less than £50,000 from 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.
  • More than half your income in these periods must come from self-employment.
  • To minimise fraud, only those who are already in self-employment and meet the above conditions will be eligible to apply. HMRC will identify eligible taxpayers and contact you directly with guidance on how to apply.
  • Grants will be paid in a single lump sum instalment covering all three months, and will start to be paid at the beginning of June.

Other support

  • Income Tax payments due in July 2020 under the Self-Assessment system will be deferred to January 2021. This is an automatic offer. 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.
  • HMRC will work with self-employed people in financial distress and with outstanding tax liabilities on a case-by-case basis to agree a time-limited deferral period on tax owed. If you have missed a tax payment or you might miss your next payment due to COVID-19, you can call HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 0159 559.
  • People will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments where they are directly affected by COVID-19 (or self-isolating), without the current requirement to attend a jobcentre.
  • The Minimum Income Floor in Universal Credit will be suspended 'for everyone affected by the economic impacts of coronavirus'. This means that self-employed people can now access Universal Credit at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees (approximately £94.25 per week).
  • ‘New style’ Employment and Support Allowance will be payable for people directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice for from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth day.
  • The proposed rollout of IR35 to the private sector in April has been postponed for one year as a result of COVID-19.

The Museum Freelance Network has prepared a list of support and advice for freelancers which is updated regularly.

There is widespread concern that the government's measures for self-employed people do not go far enough, and will leave many people facing a long period without income. The MA is lobbying the government and backs the demands of the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), the Creative Industries Federation (CIF), the Museum Freelance Network and others for further action.