Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: A support package unlike any other
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is probably one of the most important and successful steps that the Government has taken to support businesses and their employees in this very challenging environment.
Unlike schemes such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), which has been held up by problems in eligibility criteria and administration, CJRS is being used to support an estimated 9 million workers across the country.
When companies are facing the threat of rising costs and significantly reduced income, it can be an agonising, and in many cases inevitable, decision to make employees redundant in order to save the company. This scheme, which ensures that workers can be paid 80% of their full salary (up to £2,500 per month) directly from the government while they are furloughed for a three month period, is invaluable.
We’ve been helping many of our clients to protect their employees and manage their cashflow using this scheme and it’s making a huge difference. For the employee, being furloughed is a far more attractive option than being made redundant or accepting reduced pay as it means their job is protected, they stay ’employed’ and they are able to protect most of their regular income. Being furloughed also helps them to protect their health and that of their family as it enables them to stay home and fully maintain social distancing.
We’ve found that another advantage of the scheme is that it is quite flexible; if work begins to pick up, an employer can bring the furlough period to an end after the minimum three-week period and the employee can resume their full time work, and it means that the company and its employees will be in a good position ready to reinvigorate their business whenever the lockdown comes to an end, rather than facing a potential staffing shortage.
There have been some problems with the scheme – particularly regarding the date from which a person who has already been made redundant can be put onto the scheme. Previously around 200,000 people were made redundant at the start of the crisis and before eligibility for the job retention scheme began. Thankfully, this has now been addressed in part with the eligibility date having been extended. Now, people who were employed on a company’s PAYE payroll on or before 19 March can be eligible for the scheme, as long as the employee was identified to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) through an RTI submission showing payment in respect of that employee on or before that date. This does still leave workers who were made redundant before this date ineligible, but it is an improvement.
Our detailed CJRS guidance note is available to download here
Developments announced at the end of May
From July: The scheme will be closed to new entrants but those who were placed on furlough leave on or before 10 June can be brought back to work part time. Employers will be required to pay their employees for their hours worked with the scheme covering the remaining time not worked up to normal hours. Government covered costs will remain at 80% and capped at £2,500.
From August: The government will continue to pay 80% of wages up to a cap of £2,500 through the scheme but employers will be required to pay the employer NICs and pension contributions for the hours not worked by employees which is currently included within the scheme.
From September: The government will reduce their payments through the scheme to 70% of wages up to a cap of £2,187.50 for the hours not worked by an employee. Employers will be required to pay the employer NICs and pension contributions as introduced from August, as well as an additional 10% of wages to make up the total 80% up to a cap of £2,500.
From October: The government will reduce their payments through the scheme further to 60% of wages up to a cap of £1,875 for the hours not worked by an employee. Employers will be required to pay the employer NICs and pension contributions as introduced from August, as well as an additional 20% of wages to make up the total 80% up to a cap of £2,500.
There remains a national issue with the scheme regarding company directors that pay themselves annually. Due to a technicality of the scheme, the director (or any other employee) is not eligible to make a claim if they were not registered with HMRC prior to 19 March.
HMRC is consulting on recovery powers for CJRS
Under proposed amendments to the Finance Bill, HMRC will be able to recover grants issued for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and Self-employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS), issue penalties and charge tax. Penalties will only be levied in cases of deliberate non-compliance.
Full details of the consultation can be found on the government’s website here.
Additional measures introduced to help employers and their employees
Businesses paying sick pay to employees:
Legislation has been brought forward to allow small and medium-sized businesses and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) paid for sickness absence due to COVID-19.
This refund will cover up to two weeks’ SSP per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19.
Employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed SSP (according to the new eligibility criteria) as a result of COVID-19.
Employers should maintain records of employee absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note.
If evidence is required by an employer, those with symptoms of coronavirus can get an isolation note from NHS 111 online and those who live with someone that has symptoms can get a note from the NHS website.
The reimbursement of SSP is expected to be net of tax. Business will therefore still pay the tax cost of paying statutory sick pay.
Your business must be UK based and your business is small or medium-sized and employs fewer than 250 employees as of 28 February 2020.
The eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of Statutory Sick Pay to those staying at home comes into force.
How to access
The government is developing a rebate scheme which will be open to applications from 26 May 2020.
Support for those ineligible for Statutory Sick Pay:
New style Employment and Support Allowance will be payable for people directly affected by COVID-19 or self-isolating according to government advice from the first day of sickness, rather than the eighth day.
People will be able to claim Universal Credit and access advance payments where they are directly affected by COVID-19 (or self-isolating), without the current requirement to attend a job centre.
Rules on carrying over annual leave to be relaxed:
The government have amended regulations to allow workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 to carry it over into the next two leave years to ensure they don’t lose their leave entitlements.
The regulations will allow up to four weeks of unused leave to be carried into the next two leave years, easing the requirements on business to ensure that workers take the statutory amount of annual leave in any one year. This will mean people can continue working in the national effort against the coronavirus without losing out on annual leave entitlement.
The changes will also ensure all employers affected by COVID-19 have the flexibility to allow workers to carry over leave at a time when granting annual leave could leave them short-staffed in some of Britain’s key industries, such as food and healthcare.
The changes will amend the Working Time Regulations, which apply to almost all workers, including agency workers, those who work irregular hours, and workers on zero-hours contracts.
HMRC issue a stern warning to companies abusing government assistance programmes:
HMRC chief Jim Harra has urged furloughed employees to report firms that are still asking them to work. “Depending on the nature of the behaviour, if it amounted to knowingly trying to defraud us then we could take criminal action against employers.”
If you would like more information, please visit our COVID-19 Knowledgebase