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Dividend ban on big companies receiving government help

Written by: Emma Lunn
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has banned large employers using the new Jobs Support Scheme from paying dividends to shareholders and sacking staff.

The caveat was in the small print of the new Jobs Support Scheme announced yesterday and due to start in November after the existing Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme ends.

A government document explaining the details the new scheme states: “Our expectation is that large employers using the Job Support Scheme will not be making capital distributions, such as dividend payments or share buybacks, whilst accessing the grant.”

Large firms will also have to undergo a financial impact test to demonstrate the business has been hit by Covid-19. There will be no financial assessment test for small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The furlough scheme, which has been running since March, doesn’t have such strings attached.

Sunak told MPs yesterday: “There will be restrictions on larger companies in terms of capital distributions to shareholders, whilst they are in receipt of money for their workers on this scheme, and indeed they will not be able to make redundancy notices to those workers who are on this scheme throughout its duration.”

Further details will be published in the coming days as part of official guidance as to how the Jobs Support Scheme will work.

Some pundits are suggesting that large firms may also be banned from paying executives bonuses.

Tom Stevenson, investment director of personal investing at Fidelity International, says: “After the cuts in dividend payments this year, the yield on the FTSE 100 should be about 4% in the year ahead. That’s an average. For investors willing to roll their sleeves up and do the hard work of deciding whether dividends are sustainable and likely to be covered by earnings and cash flow, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up much higher pay-outs than this.

“Many of the companies which stopped their dividends, not because they had to but because they thought it looked better in the early days of the pandemic, could well start re-introducing pay-outs in the months ahead.

“It’s worth noting, however, that the chancellor’s support scheme comes with strings attached and bigger companies in receipt of aid may find they can’t return to the dividend list or even pay executive bonuses.”

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