I propose to take Questions Nos. 213 to 215, inclusive, and 219 together.
The Covid Restrictions Support Scheme (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. The support is available to companies, self-employed individuals and partnerships who carry on a trade or trading activities, the profits from which are chargeable to tax under Case I of Schedule D, from a business premises located in a region subject to Covid restrictions as set out in the relevant legislation.
To qualify under the scheme a business must, under specific terms of the Covid restrictions, be required to either prohibit or significantly restrict, customers from accessing their business premises to acquire goods or services, with the result that the business either has to temporarily close or to operate at a significantly reduced level. For the purposes of CRSS, a qualifying “business premises” is a building or other similar fixed physical structure in which a business activity is ordinarily carried on.
The CRSS applies to businesses carrying on trading activities from a business premises located in a region subject to restrictions, which requires the business to prohibit or considerably restrict customers from accessing their business premises and as a result, is operating at less than 25% of turnover in 2019.
It is not sufficient that the trade of a business has been impacted because of a reduction in customer demand as a consequence of Covid-19. The scheme only applies where, as a direct result of the specific terms of the Government restrictions, the business is required to either prohibit or significantly restrict access to its business premises.
The cash payment is 10% of the average weekly turnover of the business in 2019 up to €20,000 and 5% thereafter, subject to a maximum weekly payment of €5,000, for each week that the business is affected by the Covid restrictions.
With the easing of Covid restrictions in recent months many businesses are no longer significantly restricted from operating and therefore are no longer eligible for the CRSS. However, eligible businesses have been able to claim enhanced restart week payments to assist them with the costs of reopening. A total of €704m has been paid out under the CRSS in respect of 25,500 premises.
The public health restrictions currently in force, require nightclubs and discotheques to remain closed until 9 January 2022 and they will be eligible to receive the CRSS until then.
Under the relevant legislation, the CRSS was due to end on 31 December 2021 but is now being extended to the end of January 2022. Provision is also being made to allow the Minister to extend the CRSS up to 30 April 2022 by Ministerial order if deemed necessary.
Following the agreement of Government on 3 December 2021, my Department and Revenue sought to develop a proposal to modify the CRSS to provide for a supplementary subsidy (in addition to EWSS) for businesses which are subject to the latest restrictions on operating. The objective of the modified scheme was to provide targeted, timely and sector-specific support to supplement the reduced EWSS payments to the sector.
However, on further consideration and analysis of the data on CRSS, it proved to be administratively complex to design such a scheme and it would not be possible to have it operational ahead of Christmas as was hoped. The proposed modifications which included a change to both the turnover threshold and the rate, as well as consideration of a higher weekly cap, had the potential to significantly increase the cost of the scheme, particularly in the context of uncertainly around the trajectory of Covid-19 and the impact of the Omicron variant.
Therefore a decision was taken that a restoration of the higher EWSS rate was a relatively more efficient and effective way to support businesses in the immediate term. The CRSS will remain in place to support businesses who are required to close or significantly restrict customers from accessing their business premises, and who meet the qualifying criteria.
I propose to introduce amendments to the Finance Bill 2021 to give effect to these changes in the Seanad this week.