The last few days have seen yet more changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We summarise the key elements below.
Job retention scheme (scheme)
Online Portal Live
The government’s online portal through which employers can make their claim for the grant to cover furloughed workers wages went live on 20 April 2020. HMRC are stating that payment will be made within six days of a claim being submitted so employers need to ensure claims are made by 22 April if they are to receive payment by the end of the month.
The government have also produced a helpful step by step guide for completing the online submission which employers are well advised to review before making a claim. A link to the guide is here.
Extension to June
The scheme, originally in place for three months from 1 March until 31 May, has been extended for a further month and will now be accessible until 30 June 2020. It remains to be seen if there will be a further extension.
There has been a lot of debate regarding whether the Treasury Direction which was issued on 15 April set a requirement for there to be a written agreement in place between the employer and employee prior to an employee being placed on furlough, even though this had not previously been stated in any of the guidance accompanying the scheme. Interestingly, the guidance as at 20 April now states that to be eligible for the grant employers must confirm in writing to their employees they have been furloughed but, as long as this is done in a way that is consistent with employment law, that consent is valid for the purposes of claiming under the scheme. Whilst there needs to be a written record, the employee does not have to provide a written response. However, a record of this communication must be kept for five years. Employers may want to consider reviewing their original furlough letters now to see whether these need updating, not least in light of the extension of the scheme to the end of June and the need to record employees’ agreement.
At long last, the guidance for employees on the scheme now specifies that, as well as continuing to accrue holiday, employees can also take holiday whilst on furlough. Any holiday taken should be paid at the normal holiday pay and therefore requires employers to top up to full pay any amounts they receive through the scheme for days taken as holiday. It is presumed that this is based on the full pay prior to the furlough period.
Where bank holidays are usually taken as leave, then either the employer needs to top up pay on these days so that they are taken as holiday or give the employee a day of holiday in lieu of the bank holiday.
The government guidance now makes it clear that HMRC will retrospectively check all aspects of claims made through the scheme and that payments may be withheld or repaid if the claim is based on dishonest or inaccurate information or found to be fraudulent. There is an online portal for employees and the public to report suspected fraud in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Legislation has now been passed which confirms that those who are extremely vulnerable and who are therefore shielding for 12 weeks are eligible for statutory sick pay (although not if they are on furlough).