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SME guide to COVID-19 government assistance: What’s on offer to your business


As you’ve undoubtedly heard, the Australian Government is doing what it can to strengthen the economy through the COVID-19 pandemic and have made a number of support measures available to small businesses. Here, we outline the assistance packages designed to help keep your business afloat.

What support programs are on offer?

If you’re looking for financial assistance during these unprecedented times, the government has a range of options, including:

  • The JobKeeper Payment
  • Boosting cash flow for employers support measure
  • Apprentice and trainee subsidy
  • Local government assistance.

JobKeeper Payment

  • Paid if you: Estimate your turnover will drop by 30% or more
  • Payment amount: $1,500 a fortnight, per employee
  • Paid to: Employers, to pass on to staff employed for 12 months as at 1 March 2020
  • Paid for: 30 March to 27 September 2020 (paid in arrears from the first week of May)

If your small business is significantly impacted by COVID-19, it’s likely you’ll be able to access the JobKeeper Payment. That means you can continue paying your employees and help them keep their jobs, so they’ll be ready to re-start when the pandemic is over.

If your businesses’ annual turnover is less than $1 billion your estimated fall in turnover must be by 30% or more to be eligible. Your business must also not be subject to the Major Bank Levy to be eligible. Not-for-profit organisations, charities and sole traders that satisfy eligibility criteria can also access the payment.

For full details on the JobKeeper Payment, including full eligibility criteria, visit the government website.

How to apply and what’s next?

If you’re eligible for the JobKeeker Payment, enrol through the ATO here.

You’ll also need to let your employees know you’ve enrolled in the JobKeeper program, and confirm they’re happy for you to remain their primary employer to receive the payments. Send them the Employee Nomination Notice to fill out and return to you, which you need to keep on file for five years.

If you’re an eligible employer, you’ll start receiving payments from the first week of May, to cover your employees’ wages from 30 March 2020. Once the funds come through, you can pay each employee the minimum $1,500 per fortnight.

Boosting cash flow for employers support measure

  • Paid to: Eligible small and medium businesses, sole traders, not-for-profits, partnerships, companies and trusts
  • Paid as: Two tax-free cash flow boosts, as credits through the BAS system
  • Payment amount: From $20,000 to $100,000 (total)
  • Paid if you: Have made eligible payments you’re required to hold (even if the amount is $0)
  • Paid from: April-June, then June-September 2020, depending on when you lodge your BAS

For most small businesses, regular cash flow is the number one priority. That’s why the government has introduced the boosting cash flow support measure.

If your business has a turnover of less than $50 million and has made eligible payments you are required to withhold from (even if the amount is $0), you could be eligible for two cash injections totalling between $20,000 and $100,000.

Eligible withheld payments include payments like salary and wages, and retirement and compensation payments. In practice, this means you keep the amounts you have withheld from payments for these periods, however, there are some exceptions.

For full details, including all eligible payments and full eligibility criteria, visit the government website.

How to apply and what’s next?

The good news is, you don’t need anything extra. If your business is eligible, payments will be automatically credited to your account when you lodge your BAS statements. 

Male customer purchasing goods at a shop counter

Apprentice and trainee assistance

  • Paid to: Employers of apprentices and trainees (or to new employers if they’ve been let go)
  • Payment amount: Up to $21,000 per employee
  • Paid if you: Employ 20 people, and retain at least one apprentice or trainee

If you are a small business and employ apprentices or trainees, you can apply to receive a 50% subsidy of their wages from 1 January to 30 September 2020. If you satisfy eligibility criteria, you’ll be reimbursed up to $7,000 per employee, per quarter.

The subsidy will be available to most businesses employing fewer than 20 employees who retain an apprentice or trainee. For full details of the package, including full eligibility criteria, visit the government website.

How to apply and what’s next?

To register, find your local Australian Apprenticeship Support Network (AASN) provider here. Your AASN provider will then carry out an assessment and if you’re confirmed as eligible you’ll be able to access the payment.

More financial help

The government has implemented more ways to help relieve financial stress on your business. This includes a temporary hold on evictions for SMEs, rental reductions for commercial tenants through a mandated code, and increasing the instant write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000. There’s also temporary relief for businesses facing bankruptcy.

Contact your accountant to find out if any of these initiatives can benefit you.

Local government support

Each state or territory has its own grants and programs to support you through the COVID-19 pandemic. For a list of what’s available in your area, visit the government website here.

Local councils also have a number of initiatives to support small businesses, so it’s worth contacting your council to see if you’re eligible for more help.

Personal support

If your business is impacted by COVID-19, you might be struggling to prioritise what’s most important – your personal mental health and wellbeing. The government’s Head to Health website provides access to trusted information and digital support tools to help.

Beyond Blue is one of the recommended services and has a resource specifically designed for small business owners. You can also call their coronavirus helpline 24/7 on 1800 512 348.

R U OK also offers resources and useful information on staying connected in challenging times on their website.

Staying updated

As you can appreciate, things are changing all the time, so keep up to date with the latest news and press releases. Helpful sites include:

QBE support and resources

QBE has introduced a number of measures to support small and medium business (SME) customers experiencing financial hardship as a result of COVID-19. These include maintaining expiring premiums, deferred premium payments, continued insurance cover for vacant business premises and cover for commercial motor policies where vehicles are no longer on the road.

We’ve also developed a number of other useful business resources to help including:

Visit our COVID-19 support page to access to all our resources and find more about how can help.

Download a PDF version of this guide


The advice in this article is general in nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You must decide whether or not it is appropriate, in light of your own circumstances, to act on this advice.

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