COVID-19 Update: British Columbia

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COVID-19 Update: British Columbia

Last updated September 22, 2020. We will update blog posts when more information is released.

The B.C. government introduced a $5-billion aid package to support employees and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan includes $2.8 billion in support for individuals and services, and $2.2 billion for businesses.

While many of the details about eligibility and application processes haven't been released, here is a summary of the initiatives that may help your employees and your business.

SUPPORT FOR BUSINESS

BC Hydro COVID-19 Customer Assistance and Relief Programs  

BC Hydro introduced new programs to help businesses experiencing financial hardship due to the outbreak.

COVID-19 Customer Assistance Program

The COVID-19 Customer Assistance Program allows business customers to defer bill payments or arrange for flexible payment plans with no penalty.

Call BC Hydro's customer team at 1-800-BCHYDRO (1-800-224-9376) to discuss bill payment options.

COVID-19 Relief Fund

If you own a small business that needed to close due to COVID-19, you may be eligible to have your business' electricity use charges waived for up to three months.  The COVID-19 Relief Fund applications are open and customers can apply online anytime until June 30, 2020. 

Customer Recovery Fund from FortisBC

FortisBC has introduced a Customer Recovery Fund to help minimize monthly billing impacts to small business customers who have lost income or been forced to close as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

You can receive support in the form of bill credits to help offset the charges on your account while your business is closed, or defer your bill payments from April 1 to June 30, 2020. Depending on your situation, you may be eligible for both options.

When you apply to the program, you will automatically be entered into a repayment plan that will be spread out over the next 12 months to help lessen the immediate financial impacts on your business.

Does My Business Qualify?

Small businesses must acknowledge they’ve experienced income loss or were forced to close due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and provide the date of the business closure.

You must provide your FortisBC account number(s) confirming you’re a small business customer, and agree to enter into a payment arrangement for your deferred balance.

How Do I Apply?

You can complete the online form, or call 1-888-292-4104 (natural gas) and 1-888-292-4105 (electricity) Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

You can apply for the program between April 1 and June 30, 2020. It doesn’t matter when you apply before the deadline, you’ll still be eligible for a full 3 months of support.

Once you’ve applied, you’ll receive a confirmation email and be enrolled in the program.

Deferred Tax Payments

Effective immediately, B.C. is extending filing and payment deadlines for the following taxes until September 30, 2020:

  • Employer health tax
  • Provincial sales tax (including municipal and regional district tax*)
  • Carbon tax
  • Motor fuel tax
  • Tobacco tax

*Municipal and regional district tax (MRDT) is the additional 2 or 3% tax on accommodation.

Employers required to make instalment payments won't need to make them until after September 30, 2020. Future instalment payment due dates will be determined at a later date.

Delayed PST Tax Changes from Budget 2020

The following tax changes announced in Budget 2020 will be delayed and their timing will be reviewed by September 30, 2020:

  • Eliminating the PST exemption for carbonated beverages that contain sugar, natural sweeteners or artificial sweeteners

  • Expanded registration requirements for Canadian sellers of goods, along with Canadian and foreign sellers of software and telecommunication services

Delayed Carbon Tax Increase

Carbon tax rates will remain at their current levels until further notice. The tax measure announced in Budget 2020 aligning the carbon tax rates with the federal carbon pricing backstop is also postponed until further notice.

Reduced School Tax Rates for Businesses

School tax rates for commercial properties (Classes 4, 5 and 6) will be reduced by 50% for the 2020 tax year. The province says this will provide $500 million in immediate relief for businesses that own their property.

SUPPORT FOR INDIVIDUALS

Emergency Benefit For Workers

The B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers will provide a one-time $1,000 payment to people can’t work due to COVID-19.

To be eligible for the benefit you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • You lost your employment or self-employment income on or after March 15, 2020, and
  • You are eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and
  • You have not paid nor are you required to repay all of the CERB benefit, OR
  • You lost your employment or self-employment income for at least 14 consecutive days that began between March 1, 2020 and March 14, 2020, and
  • During those 14 consecutive days, you did not earn more than $1,000 in combined employment or self-employment income, allowances, money or other benefits under a provincial plan because of pregnancy or for the care of your new-born or newly adopted child, and you have earned employment or self-employment income of at least $5,000 in 2019 or in the 12 months prior to March 15, 2020
  •  

    In addition to either option above, you must also:

    • Have been a resident of British Columbia on March 15, 2020
    • Meet the eligibility requirements for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)
    • Have been approved for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, even if you have not received a federal benefit payment yet
    • Be at least 15 years old on the date you apply
    • Have filed, or agree to file, a 2019 B.C. income tax return
    • Not be receiving provincial income assistance or disability assistance

    If you receive a payment and it is later determined that you are not eligible for it, you may be required to repay it with penalties and interest.

    Applications will open on May 1, 2020 and have until December 2, 2020 to apply. You will need your social insurance number and direct deposit information.

    Documentation isn't required when you apply. However, all applications will be verified, and you may be asked for proof of your eligibility at a later date.

    On Monday, May 4, 2020, agents will be available by phone to assist people who need help applying, including those who do not have internet access.  General support is available at 778 309-4630 or toll-free within B.C. at 1 855 955-3545, Monday to Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Pacific time)

    Job-Protected Leave

    The province has introduced COVID-19 leave to the Employment Standards Act.

    An employee can take unpaid, job-protected leave related to COVID-19 if they're unable to work for any of the following reasons:

    • They’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are following the instructions of a medical health officer or the advice of a doctor or nurse.
    • They are in quarantine or self-isolation and are acting in accordance with an order of the provincial health officer, an order made under the Quarantine Act (Canada), guidelines from the BC Centre for Disease Control or guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada.
    • Their employer has directed them not to work due to concern about their exposure to others.
    • They need to provide care to their minor child or a dependent adult who is their child or former foster child for a reason related to COVID-19, including a school, daycare or similar facility closure.
    • They are outside of BC and unable to return to work due to travel or border restrictions.

    The COVID-19 leave is retroactive to January 27, 2020, the date that the first presumptive COVID-19 case was confirmed in British Columbia.

    During this public health emergency, employees can take this job-protected leave for the reasons above as long as they need it, without putting their job at risk. Once it is no longer needed, this leave will be removed from the Employment Standards Act.

    NOTE: Employers must excuse workers for sickness without requiring a doctor’s note.

    BC Hydro Bill Payment Deferral, Customer Crisis and COVID-19 Relief Fund

    Residential customers can defer bill payments or arrange for flexible payment plans with no penalty through the COVID-19 Customer Assistance Program. 

    Customers facing temporary financial hardship and possible disconnection of their service due to job loss, illness, or loss of a family member may also be eligible for BC Hydro's Customer Crisis Fund, which provides access to grants of up to $600 to pay their bills. Contact BC Hydro for more information.

    View eligibility requirements and application form on BC Hydro's website.

    If you or your spouse/partner have stopped working due to COVID-19, you may be eligible for three months of bill credit based on your average consumption.  BC Hydro's online application form for residential customers is now open - eligible customers can apply any time until June 30, 2020 to receive the credit.

    Customer Recovery Fund from FortisBC

    FortisBC has introduced a Customer Recovery Fund for residential customers who are unable to work or have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

    You can apply to have your bills automatically deferred, from April 1 to June 30, 2020. When you enter the program, FortisBC will work with you to create an interest-free repayment schedule.

    How Do I Qualify?

    You must acknowledge loss of employment, livelihood or being forced to take a voluntary leave due to the COVID-19 outbreak. You must provide your FortisBC account number(s) confirming you’re a residential customer, and agree to enter into a payment arrangement for your deferred balance.

    How Do I Apply?

    You can complete the online form, or call 1-888-292-4104 (natural gas) and 1-888-292-4105 (electricity) Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

    You can apply for the program between April 1 and June 30, 2020. It doesn’t matter when you apply before the deadline, you’ll still be eligible for a full 3 months of support.

    Once you’ve applied, you’ll receive a confirmation email and be enrolled in the program.

    New Temporary Rental Supplement

    To support people and prevent the spread of COVID-19, the province is introducing a new temporary rent supplement for April, May and June 2020. It will cover part of the rent for low and moderate-income renters who’ve lost income as a result of COVID-19.

    The program gives $300 per month to eligible households with no dependents, and $500 per month for eligible households with dependents.

    Only tenants may begin the application process – landlords will be contacted by BC Housing to complete the application.

    Visit BC Housing for tenant eligibility and the application process.

    Temporary Suspension of Evictions

    BC Housing has temporarily halted evictions for those who live in subsidized and affordable housing.

    The landlord may not issue a new notice to end tenancy for any reason. The enforcement of existing eviction orders are also halted, except in extreme cases where there are safety concerns.

    Freezing Rent Increases

    The province has also frozen new annual rent increases. A landlord may give notice of rent increase, but it may not come into effect until the state of emergency is over.

    Climate Action Tax Credit

    There will be a one-time boost to the B.C. Climate Action Tax Credit in July 2020. A qualifying family of 4 will receive up to $564, while individuals will receive up to $218.

    They’ve boosted the payment from:

    • $43.50 to $218 per adult
    • $12.75 to $64 per child 

    Frozen Student Loan Payments

    B.C. student loan payments are frozen for six months until September 30, 2020.

     

    Contact FBC

    If you’d like to learn more about this or other COVID-19 programs for Canadian businesses, please call us at 1-800-265-1002 or email [email protected] Unlimited consultation related to tax matters is a key benefit of FBC Membership. You can also book an appointment.

    Visit our COVID-19 Resource Centre for the latest information, advice and insights for small business owners.

    Disclaimer: The material above is provided for educational and informational purposes only.


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