This blog was originally published on April 7, 2020.
We have compiled the following summary of the resources and financial assistance that are presently available to British Columbia businesses and individuals, which you may wish to consider as you prepare to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on your organization.
This list is intended to supplement the list of federal programs, which can be found here.
Response by British Columbia Provincial Government
On March 23, 2020, the British Columbia government unveiled its $5 billion aid package for individuals and businesses affected by the COVID-19 economic shutdown. Details on the package can be found here.
March 16, 2021, the British Columbia Government formally extended the provincial state of emergency to support the provincewide response to the COVID-19 pandemic, through the end of the day on March 30, 2021. The Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders regarding restrictions on indoor social gatherings, indoor high intensity group exercise and travel have been extended indefinitely. Indoor social gatherings outside of one’s immediate household are still restricted, all indoor group activities, such as hot yoga classes and spin classes are prohibited, and any non-essential travel throughout BC is highly discouraged. Additionally, masks must be worn in all indoor public places, and those without a mask or who refuse to comply with the direction may be subject to a $230 fine. Recently, however, restrictions on outdoor gatherings have been eased to allow for gatherings of up to 10 people outside.
Using the powers under the Emergency Program Act, the government has issued a series of orders to co-ordinate the supply chain for essential goods and services. The government also introduced a number of changes aimed at supporting the economy, which are detailed below.
As of December 18, 2020, online applications for the B.C. Recovery Benefit are open. The tax-free benefit provides:
- $1,000 to families with annual incomes under $125,000. Families earning up to $175,000 will qualify for a reduced benefit amount. Single-parent families also qualify for these benefit amounts.
- $500 for single people with annual incomes under $62,500. Single people earning up to $87,500 will qualify for a reduced benefit amount.
Eligibility is determined based on your net income from your 2019 income tax notice of assessment. Further eligibility requirements include:
- resident of B.C. on Friday, December 18, 2020;
- at least 19 years old on December 18, 2020, unless you are a primary caregiver of a child or cohabitating with a spouse;
- have filed a 2019 income tax return;
- have a 2019 income tax notice of assessment, and if applicable, your spouse’s 2019 income tax notice of assessment;
- have a social insurance number and if applicable, your spouse’s social insurance number;
- have direct deposit information, including the branch number, institution number and account number of your bank; and
- have a B.C. driver’s licence or confirm if you do not have one.
People are encouraged to apply online here. For those without internet access, call agents will be available to accept applications over the phone:
- toll-free within North America: 1-833-882-0020
- Monday to Friday (excluding statutory holidays) from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Pacific time).
Applications for the B.C. Recovery Benefit will be accepted until June 2021.
On July 10, the COVID-19 Related Measures Act came into force. The legislation enables provisions created for citizens and businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to continue as needed should the provincial state of emergency end.
On April 16, 2020 the British Columbia government announced a new B.C. Business COVID-19 Support Service which will be operated by Small Business B.C. The support service will serve as a single point of contact for businesses in the province looking for more information on resources available during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting on April 16, 2020, advisers will be available for inquiries by telephone at 1-833-254-4357, or alternatively inquiries can be emailed to email@example.com. Details on the support service can be found here.
On August 21, 2020, police and provincial enforcement officers were given the authority to issue violation tickets for owners and organizers contravening the provincial health officer’s order on gatherings and events. On December 16, the Province announced enhanced enforcement measures which included strengthening COVID-19 fine-collection measures and calling for increased support for police from provincial enforcement officers in administering violation tickets. Between August 21 and January 1, 2021, 547 violation tickets were issued: 103 $2,300 violation tickets to owners and organizers violating the order on gatherings and events; 21 $2,300 violation tickets for contravention of the Food and Liquor Serving Premises Order; and 450 $230 violation tickets to individuals. It is important to stay up to date on the latest orders from the provincial health officer to ensure you and your business are in compliance. A list of the orders can be found here.
List of resources available to businesses in British Columbia
- Employer Health Tax Payments: Effective immediately, businesses with a payroll over $500,000 can defer their employer health tax payments. Businesses with a payroll under this threshold are already exempt from the tax. To further support businesses, the employer health tax (EHT) 2020 quarterly instalment dates are being extended as follows:
- Dec. 31, 2020 (original instalment date was June 15, 2020)
- Jan. 31, 2021 (original instalment date was Sept. 15, 2020)
- Feb. 28, 2021 (original instalment date was Dec. 15, 2020)
These extensions will give businesses more access to cashflow during recovery and more time to determine their annual payroll and estimate the amount of EHT they will owe. The 2020 EHT filing and balance due date will remain March 31, 2021.
- Extension of Tax Filing Deadlines: the province is extending tax filing and payment deadlines for the provincial sales tax (PST), municipal and regional district tax on short-term accommodation, tobacco tax, motor fuel tax and carbon tax until September 30, 2020.
- Delayed PST Budget 2020 Tax Changes: the scheduled April 1 increase to the provincial carbon tax, as well as the new PST registration requirements on e-commerce and the implementation of PST on sweetened carbonated drinks, will be delayed until April 2021.
- Reduced School Tax: On April 16, 2020 further reductions to the school property tax rate for commercial properties were announced, resulting in an average 25% reduction in property tax bills. This is further to the 50% reduction to the provincial school property tax rate that was originally announced for property classes 4, 5 and 6. The date that late penalties will begin to apply has also been postponed to October 1, 2020 to allow businesses more time to pay their reduced property tax without penalty.
- Carbon Tax: A scheduled increase in April 2020 from $40 to $45 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e) had been paused until at least October as part of the COVID-19 Action Plan. Upon review, the B.C. government has decided the carbon tax rate will remain at its current level of $40 per tCO2e until April 2021, when it will increase from $40 to $45 per tCO2e. The carbon tax will increase to $50 per tCO2e in April 2022.
- Carbon Tax Relief Grant: BC greenhouse operations which are commercial, had sales exceeding $20,000 in 2018, are using natural gas or propane to heat the greenhouse or produce C02, has production area greater than 455 m2, and are producing eligible crops in the 2019 production year are eligible to apply for carbon tax relief grants for the 2020 production year, until May 1, 2020. Information will be posted here as it becomes available.
- Eviction Protection: By an order made under the Emergency Program Act on June 1, 2020, landlords who chose not to apply for the federal government’s Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (“CECRA”) program which was launched on May 24, 2020, will not be able to evict their small business tenants for unpaid rent. The order restricts lease terminations, rent repayment claims and the repossession of small business’ goods and property. The order will remain in place while the CECRA program remains in place.
- The Province of British Columbia has compiled a list of COVID-19 Economic Development Resources.
- The Province of British Columbia offers a number of free business planning and continuity resources.
- The Squamish Chamber of Commerce has provided a joint provincial update with the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.
- The Vancouver Economic Commission is monitoring economic impacts of COVID-19 on Vancouver’s economy and local businesses. Report the impact of COVID-19 on your business and find more resources on mitigating the impacts of COVID-19.
- The following companies in B.C. are offering financial relief from payments:
- City of Port Coquitlam utility bills: The City of Port Coquitlam is waiving the March 31 penalty and extending the deadline for payment of 2020 utility bills which includes water, sewer and solid waste. The payment deadline has been extended until September 30.
- The City of Vancouver has approved a delay in the 2020 payment deadline for both commercial and residential property taxes. The new tax payment deadline is September 30, 2020.
- ICBC: Customers on a monthly payment plan who are facing financial challenges due to COVID-19 may defer their payment for up to 90 days with no penalty.
- WorkSafeBC: employers reporting and paying on a quarterly basis may defer payments for Q1 2020 without penalty until June 30, 2020. Employers who report payroll and pay premiums on an annual basis need not report their 2020 payroll or pay their 2020 premiums until March 2021.
The following resources are available to individuals in British Columbia:
- B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers: Eligible individuals can apply to receive a one-time $1,000 payment. To be eligible, an individual must be at least 15 years of age, be a resident of British Columbia as of March 15, 2020, have been approved for the Canada Emergency response Benefit, have filed or agrees to file a 2019 B.C. income tax return, and will not be receiving provincial income assistance or disability assistance. Eligible applicants have until December 2, 2020 to apply. On August 17, 2020, the B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers was expanded to include two weeks where the Canada Emergency Response Benefit was not available. Now, if you’re eligible for and receive at least one Canada Emergency Response Benefit and then return to work, and you’re not required to repay the benefit, you may still be eligible for the B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers, provided you meet the other eligibility criteria. Please note that the B.C. Ministry of Finance must be notified of any change in eligibility within 30 days of such change. Failure to notify the B.C. government may lead to a penalty. For more information on how to apply see this resource.
- Climate Action Tax Credit: A one-time enhancement to the climate action tax credit will be paid in July 2020 for moderate to low-income families. An adult will receive up to $218 (increased from $174), and a child will receive $64 (increased from $51).
- COVID-19 Support for Renters and Landlords: a new temporary rental supplement of up to $500 per month will be available to low to moderate income renters who are facing financial hardship but do not qualify for existing rental assistance programs. In addition the government of British Columbia announced halting of evictions, except in extreme cases where there are safety concerns, and freezing rent increases while the state of emergency is ongoing. Applications for the rental supplement have opened on the B.C. Housing website.
- Student Loan Repayment Holiday: British Columbia Student Loans are automatically frozen for six months effective March 30, 2020.
- B.C. Hydro: The COVID-19 Relief Fund is a program that offers support for residential customers who have lost their employment or have become unable to work due to COVID-19. Eligible residential customers can apply online to receive a bill credit of up to three months of their average electricity consumption. To be eligible for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, the residential customer must have had an account as of March 31, 2020, and is eligible for EI, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or B.C.’s Emergency Response Benefit for Workers. Applications are open and customers can apply anytime until June 30, 2020.
- Indigenous Emergency Assistance Fund: Additional Supports for Indigenous Post-Secondary Students experiencing financial pressures were announced on April 3, 2020. More information can be found here.
- COVID-19 Support for Income & Disability Assistance: Individuals not receiving federal Employment Insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and are on Income Assistance, Disability Assistance, Comforts Allowance, or BC Senior’s Supplement will automatically receive a $300 supplement for cheques issued in April, May, June, July and August. No action is required to receive this supplement.
- A comprehensive list of the resources available to individuals in British Columbia can be found at http://www.bc211.ca/ under Financial Assistance.
We foresee many difficult and challenging circumstances arising from the spread of COVID-19 on our clients, and we are here to help you navigate these circumstances. In the above article, we have attempted to outline some of the more recent developments which have been implemented to assist businesses and individuals, but this list is not exhaustive, and there may be further options available to you. If you have questions relating to your organization’s specific circumstances, please reach out to MLT Aikins for assistance.
Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.