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Further updates on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

14/04/2020

The Government released further updates to the guidance around the operation of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme over the Easter weekend.

Although not yet formally confirmed we understand the expectation is now that the portal for employers to claim under the scheme will now be available around 20 April. This is positive news as the original expectation was that the portal may not be available until the end of April. It does seem likely however that accessing the portal over the first few days may prove to be challenging as the expectation must be that initial demand will be very high.

We are now almost halfway through the period covered by the scheme as originally announced (three months from 1 March 2020). The guidance may well continue to develop over time but anecdotally it appears that take-up for the scheme has been considerably higher than Government may have expected, so it will be interesting to see what changes may be introduced if and when the scheme is extended beyond the original finish date of 31 May. 

The full revised guidance can be found here:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Details of the key changes are set out below: 

Employees on sick pay

  • The new guidance confirms that employees who are currently ill and receiving statutory sick pay can be placed on furlough. In this instance, the employee would stop receiving statutory sick pay and would instead be classified as a furloughed employee entitled to a minimum of 80% of their usual monthly salary which can then be claimed by the employer under the scheme.
  • The guidance also provides additional detail on employees who are shielding or who are on long term sick leave.  As previously indicated these employees can be placed on furlough, but the guidance now makes it clear that an employer can only claim under either the Job Retention Scheme OR the Statutory Sick Pay rebate scheme at any given time – claims cannot be made under both schemes for the same period.
  • Where an employee becomes ill while on furlough the guidance makes it clear that the employer has the option to either move the employee onto statutory sick pay OR to keep them on the furlough scheme.  The employee will be entitled to an amount equal to at least the rate of statutory sick pay but beyond that, it is at the discretion of the employer as to whether the employee remains furloughed or moved onto statutory sick pay. 
  • If the employee is moved onto statutory sick pay then the employer can no longer claim the furloughed rate under the Job Retention Scheme and must bear the cost of the statutory sick pay themselves (subject to any rebate they may be entitled to under the Statutory Sick Pay rebate scheme).  If the employee is kept on furlough in this situation the employer can continue to claim under the Job Retention Scheme.

WR comment – these are welcome clarifications on the impact of sickness on an employer’s ability to furlough employees, and on the whole, seem to take a sensible and pragmatic approach within the spirit of the scheme.

 

Contractors with public sector engagements within the IR35 off-payroll working rules

The new guidance clarifies the position of contractors who provide services to public sector bodies through their own personal services company (“PSC”).  Where the relationship between the public sector body and the contractor is deemed to be that of employer/employee under the public sector off-payroll working rules the public sector body may be eligible to claim under the Job Retention Scheme for payments made to the PSC. There are then detailed rules as to how this interacts in the case where the director of the PSC decides to place themselves on furlough.

WR comment – this is a niche area but does provide useful clarification. The implementation of the private sector off-payroll working rules was delayed by 12 months from the originally planned date of 1 April this year. Directors of PSCs working for private sector organisations are not therefore affected by the off-payroll working rules and in many cases, the benefits of the Job Retention Scheme to those directors are likely to be limited. 

 

Employee transfers

  • The guidance now clarifies that a new employer will be eligible to furlough employees and claim under the Job Retention Scheme in respect of employees of a previous business transferred under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) or PAYE Business Succession rules.  This is the case even if the employer did not have a PAYE scheme on or before 28 February because the transfer took place after that date.
  • Similarly, if a group of companies takes the decision to consolidate its payrolls after 28 February 2020 it will still be able to furlough and claim for employees whose payroll is transferred as a result of the consolidation.

WR comment – again these are useful clarifications and prevent any potential adverse consequences where employees have been transferred to a new employer after the start of the Job Retention Scheme

 

Employees returning from statutory leave

The guidance confirms that, where an employee returning from statutory leave such as maternity or paternity leave is placed on furlough, the calculation of the amount the employer is entitled to claim under the scheme (and the minimum amount the employee must be paid) is based on their normal salary and not on the amount they received while on leave.

What you need to make a claim

The new guidance extends the list of information which will be required to make a claim under the scheme. The full list as set out in the most recent guidance is now:

  • Your employer PAYE reference number
  • The number of employees being furloughed
  • National Insurance Numbers for the employees you want to furlough
  • Names of the employees you want to furlough
  • Payroll/works number for the employees you want to furlough
  • Your Self Assessment Unique Taxpayer Reference or Corporation Tax Unique Taxpayer Reference or Company Registration Number
  • The claim period (start and end date)
  • Amount claimed (per the minimum length of furloughing of 3 consecutive weeks)
  • Your bank account number and sort code
  • Your contact name
  • Your phone number

WR comment – on the assumption the portal does indeed open on 20 April or shortly thereafter employers should ensure that they have assembled all of this information in time for it to be entered as soon as possible once the portal is up and running which in turn will ensure that they receive the relevant grants as speedily as possible

 

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