DMS Posts, PAYE, Tax

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – What do we know so far?

The Government announced an extensive package of support on Friday 20 March for employers coping with the commercial difficulties arising from Covid-19. This has been welcomed by employers, many of whom we have been speaking to, who have been extremely concerned about how to pay wages when revenues have dried up or they have been forced to close. Those businesses have been facing very tough choices around lay off, short term working and redundancies – while trying to balance the finances, needs of the business and the livelihoods of their staff and communities. 

The key measure announced to help employers is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Through this, employers can claim a grant to cover up to 80% of an employee’s wage costs. At the time of writing (19:00 on 22 March), we are awaiting detailed guidance as to exactly how this will work: but what do we know about the scheme so far?

Which employers are eligible for the scheme?

All UK employers can apply – you don’t need to be in any specific sectors, just pay people via PAYE. This includes businesses of any size and includes charitable or non profit. 

How do you access the scheme?

According to guidance on the Gov.uk webpage, employers will need to:

  • designate affected employees as ‘furloughed workers,’ and notify their employees of this change – changing the status of employees remains subject to existing employment law and, depending on the employment contract, may be subject to negotiation.
  • submit information to HMRC about the employees that have been furloughed and their earnings through a new online portal. HMRC will set out further details on the information required.

It is unclear at this time what (if any) financial information an employer would need to provide to HMRC to show that you cannot cover staff costs due to Covid-19. 

The employer will be able to claim a grant of up to 80% of the employees wage for all employment costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month.

The scheme will be backdated to 1 March (useful for employers who have already had to make lay offs) and will be open for at least 3 months, but extended ‘for longer if necessary’. 

As this is a reimbursement grant, the employer will make the wage payment to the furloughed employee and then be reimbursed by HMRC. At this stage the timescale is unknown, although the Chancellor suggested the first payouts could be made by the end of April at the latest. Please see here for more details of support that may assist with cash flow through this time.

What does Furloughed mean?

There is no previous legal term for this and it is a completely new concept to English Employment Law. The common definition of to ‘furlough’ is to allow or force someone to be absent temporarily from work. 

We understand that if an employer needs to make an employee redundant or lay them off, they can instead discuss with the employee them becoming classified as a ‘furloughed worker’. This would mean they would remain on the employer’s payroll, rather than being made redundant or laid off with no pay. Their employment would continue but they could not undertake any work for the employer while classified in this way.  

We are still waiting for the detail, but it seems most likely that if an employee has an express lay off clause in their contract, the employer could designate the employee as a furloughed worker. The employer would need to discuss this with staff. 

If the employee does not have a lay off clause in their contract, the employer is likely to need to have a discussion and seek the employee’s consent to be classified as a furloughed worker.  Given that the alternative could be redundancy, most employees are likely to agree. This may depend on what amount of paid notice, Statutory Redundancy Pay and holiday pay they would receive if made redundant. It may also depend on whether the employer is able to ‘top up’ the pay (so the furloughed worker is paid 100% not 80%) or offer for the employee to take or be paid for their accrued but not yet taken annual leave as well. 

Does the employer have to pay more than 80% to Furloughed Workers?

No – the early guidance is clear that the employer could choose to fund the differences between this payment and the employee’s salary, but does not have to.

At this point in time we don’t know whether the 80% grant is limited to just salary or whether it extends to include Employers National Insurance or costs for any benefits such as pensions, health insurance etc. Although it seems unlikely, this might mean that the sum actually paid to the employee is less than 80% of net salary, so care should be given by employers when communicating with staff to say that wage payments for furloughed employees will be in accordance with the scheme.  

We also don’t know how that 80% would be calculated for those whose monthly or weekly salary varies. Again at this stage it is best to communicate to those staff that payments will be in accordance with the scheme once clarified. 

Possible knock on impacts?

At this stage, it is right to feel relieved that there will be a safety net. Further clarification will be welcome, especially in the following areas which could become problematic as this develops:

  • If an employer need some employees to continue to work, how do they choose who to classify as a furloughed worker and who should work on? In the absence of any guidance, we would recommend a selection criteria akin to a redundancy selection matrix, making sure you avoid any discriminatory criteria. It will be interesting to see whether any Government emphasis is placed on giving furloughed status to those who have medical conditions that place them at higher risk from Covid-19 or those who need to care for dependants. Without that Government emphasis employers may face discrimination risks in doing so. 
  • How do you deal with dissatisfaction of those good employees that you ask to carry working on, when other possibly less high performing employees are offered and become furloughed?
  • How do you deal with those on Maternity? We expect it will be the position that those on maternity remain on maternity leave until they wish to return, at which point you would need to assess whether there is work for them or offer them to be furloughed. This could cause issues given that the payment to employees who are furloughed could be significantly higher than statutory maternity pay.
  • What about those who are currently off sick or self isolating on SSP? Should they be furloughed?
  • If there is a delay in payment by HMRC, can you pass that delay on to your employees? This seems unlikely to be encouraged and without provision by the Government may amount to a breach of contract or unlawful deduction of wages. HMRC has set-up a dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559 for businesses and individuals in financial distress.

We anticipate HMRC will provide details in due course and we will provide updates regularly. In the interim we recommend you regularly check the Gov.uk website which is being updated most days.

Budget, DMS Posts, Other

Covid-19: IR35 changes delayed and other financial measures

As part of a wide package of financial measures designed to support the UK economy through this turbulent period, Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £350bn support package on Tuesday night.

IR35 reforms in the private sector delayed

In an unexpected U-turn, the government has announced that its planned reforms to IR35 legislation will be delayed for a year. The reforms, which will affect contractors who work in the private sector, were due to be implemented on 6th April this year but will now come into effect in April 2021. The delay should come as welcome news to accountants, bookkeepers and their contractor clients who work in the private sector.

Changes for pubs and restaurants

Pubs and restaurants will be granted fast-track planning permission to serve takeaway hot food and drinks. This measure is intended to help these businesses survive at a time when customers have been advised to stay at home.

Retail, hospitality and leisure industry business rates

Clients in the retail, hospitality and leisure industries that pay business rates will not have to pay these rates in the 2020/21 tax year and will potentially be eligible for a £25,000 grant. It’s not yet clear how clients will be able to access this grant but we’ll provide information as soon as it becomes available.

Small business rate relief

Clients with smaller businesses that operate from properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or less (making them eligible for small business rate relief) will be entitled to a grant of up to £10,000 each. This is an increase from the £3,000 grant announced in last week’s Budget. The grant will also be available to businesses that qualify for rural rate relief. Businesses do not need to apply for these grants; their local authorities will contact them directly.

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, announced last week in the Budget, has now been extended to offer loans of up to £5 million, with no interest due for the first six months. At the moment, we aren’t privy to a huge amount of information about what the scheme will entail. However, the government’s website currently refers to it as a scheme to “support long-term viable businesses who may need to respond to cash-flow pressures by seeking additional finance”. The temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will be delivered by the state-owned British Business Bank and according to the bank’s website, the loans should be available from 23rd March.

Support for the self-employed

Sadly, no specific support has been announced for the self-employed, who cannot access the Statutory Sick Pay reclaim announced in the Budget. We’re monitoring developments we’ll let you know if the situation changes.