We are collating and updating this FAQ to ensure you are fully up to date and able to manage your staff accordingly. Last updated 12th May 2020
On 12 May 2020, it was announced that the Scheme would be extended until the end of October, with changes to the way the Scheme runs expected from the start of August.
What’s the Job Retention Scheme?
By designating employees as “furloughed”, you will be able to recover 80 per cent of your wage costs via the Job Retention Scheme. This means that your furloughed employees will still receive at least 80 per cent of their wage from you even though they are not doing any work. It is a way of avoiding unpaid lay off or redundancy and allows you to keep employees on until you can provide work again.
On 12 May 2020, an extension to the end of October was confirmed. From August, the Scheme is likely to run slightly differently to allow the sharing of wage costs between the employer and the government where employees are brought back to work on a part-time basis. Further details are expected at the end of May.
Applications for the scheme opened on Monday 20 April and the online portal can be found at this link.
What is a ‘furloughed’ employee?
The word furlough generally means temporary leave of absence from work.
A furloughed employee is someone who, rather than being dismissed for redundancy by their employer or being put on lay off, is kept on the payroll during a period where the employer does not have any work for them.
Do I need to get employees to agree to the furlough?
Unless there is a term allowing furlough in employees’ contracts, you will need to obtain agreement from employees to designate them as furloughed and reduce their pay (if that is what you want to do — you may decide to furlough and keep on 100% pay by topping up the Government grant). An addition to Government guidance on 23 April 2020 stated that collective agreement between employer and employee will be sufficient as evidence.
You will need to agree the pay reduction with employees as part of the agreement to furlough, because normal employment law principles apply.
On 15 April 2020, the Government released a Treasury Direction on the Scheme. It stated that employers must have agreement in writing that the employee will cease to do all work for the duration of furlough.
Employers should confirm the employees' new status and obtain their consent in writing, including confirmation that the employee will cease all work in relation to their employment. Records should be kept for five years.
Do I have to collectively consult if 20 or more employees are involved?
Possibly. If there is a pre-existing consultation process in place, you may have to follow it. If there is no consultation process in place and to begin consultation on this would present difficulties with the election of representatives and actually fulfilling consultation, there may be a defence because of the special circumstances. In all but the most extreme cases, there is likely to be an expectation that some form of consultation is undertaken.
Who will the Scheme apply to?
The scheme is open to all UK employers that had a PAYE scheme in place on or before 19 March 2020, have enrolled for PAYE online and have a UK bank account. Any organisation with employees can apply, including charities, not for profit organisations and recruitment agencies.
Whilst the Government has said they do not expect many public sector employers to furlough employees, there is no complete bar on this. The guidance says “In a small number of cases, for example where organisations are not primarily funded by the government and whose staff cannot be redeployed to assist with the coronavirus response, the Scheme may be appropriate for some staff.”
When would I use the Scheme?
The Government guidance for employers says that the Scheme is for employers who have been severely affected by the coronavirus. The employee guidance says that it is to used when the employer is unable to operate or “has no work for you to do”. However, all employers are eligible to claim under the scheme and the Government recognises different organisations will face different impacts from coronavirus.
When does it start?
HMRC’s online portal is open now; it launched on Monday 20 April 2020. The scheme can be backdated for furloughed workers from 1 March 2020 and it will take around 4-6 days for the grant to come through. The scheme was initially in place for 3 months from 1 March. As of 11 May 2020, it has been extended until the end of October.
What happens to employees who have been transferred under TUPE?
Government guidance published on 30 April 2020 confirms that employees who were subject to a TUPE transfer after 28 February 2020 can be furloughed and the new employer can claim for their wages, to the prescribed amount, via the Scheme. This reverts the position back to that which had been in place before 15 April 2020, which is when the Government amended their guidance to state that employees who had been transferred after 19 March could be claimed for under the Scheme. For now the position is this: employees transferred after 28 February 2020 can be claimed for provided they are on the ‘new’ employer’s payroll, and a RTI submission made, on or before 19 March 2020.
What do we use as the starting point for employee pay?
Salaried employees’ pay is that which they earned in the last pay period prior to 19 March 2020. You can reclaim up to 80% of wage costs up to a cap of £2500 per month, plus the associated employer National Insurance contributions and minimum auto-enrolment pension contributions on that reduced wage. This is going to be in place until the end of July, from which point it is currently expected that the 80% payment to employees will remain in place but will need to be funded, in part, by the employer where the employee returns on a part-time basis.
Guidance published on 15 April 2020 clarifies that, if, based on previous guidance, you had calculated your claim based on the employee’s salary as at 28 February 2020 (and that differed from their salary in their last pay period prior to 19 March 2020) you can choose to still use this calculation for your first claim.
The situation for those with variable/irregular pay is different. If the employee has been employed (or engaged by an employment business) for a full 12 months prior to the claim, you can claim for the higher of either:
• The same month’s earning from the previous year.
• Average monthly earnings from the 2019-20 tax year.
If the employee has been employed for less than a year, you can claim for an average of their monthly earnings since they started work.
If you have previously calculated employee pay as at 28 February 2020, you can still use this calculation.
What exactly is covered in terms of elements of pay?
The Government guidance is that commission, bonuses and discretionary payments are not included when calculating pay. All elements that you are obliged to pay your employees including wages, past overtime, fees and compulsory commission payments can be included.
Will the payment be taxable?
Yes, payments you make to furloughed employees will be subject to PAYE and National Insurance contributions.
Will I be able to recover Employer’s NI contributions and pension contributions under the Job Retention Scheme?
You remain liable for Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on behalf of their furloughed employees. However, you can claim a grant from HMRC to cover:
• wages for a furloughed employee (equal to the lower of 80% of an employee’s regular salary or £2,500 per month), plus
• the Employer National Insurance contributions associated with that (capped) payment, plus
• minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions in respect of that (capped) payment.
HMRC will issue more guidance on how you should calculate their claims for Employer National Insurance Contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions before the scheme becomes live.
Do I have to pay 100% of the wages in order to claim?
No. You can choose to top up to 100% but do not have to. Those who choose to top up can still only claim the 80%. This is going to be in place until the end of July, from which point it is currently expected that the 80% payment to employees will remain in place but will need to be funded, in part, by the employer where the employee returns on a part-time basis.
Do I have to meet minimum wage with the 80 per cent?
Minimum wage applies to hours worked. So if employees are furloughed and do not work and 80 per cent of their normal earnings would take them below the NMW, this is fine.
How will I apply for the reimbursement?
You can make one claim at least every three weeks using the HMRC online portal, open from 20 April 2020. To claim, employers will need:
• employer PAYE scheme reference number
• the number of employees being furloughed
• National Insurance Numbers for the furloughed employees
• Names of the furloughed employees
• Payroll/employee number for the furloughed employees (optional)
• their Self Assessment Unique Taxpayer Reference, Corporation Tax Unique Taxpayer Reference, Company Registration Number or Employer Name (as appropriate)
• the claim period (start and end date)
• amount claimed (per the minimum length of furloughing of 3 consecutive weeks)
• their bank account number and sort code
• their contact name
• their phone number
Employers will need to calculate the amount they are claiming.
Employers can’t make more than one claim during a claim period, so when preparing to make a claim they need to decide the length of the claim period. This means they should include all of the employees that they want to furlough for that claim period, because they won’t be able to make another claim for the same period or one that overlaps, and they can’t make changes to their claim once it is submitted. In deciding what their claim period is, it helps to think about how frequently they run their payroll.
There is also now a ‘save and return’ option, meaning if employers do not have all information they require, they can save and come back to the claim later.
They should retain all records and calculations in respect of their claims, including records of the amount claimed for each furloughed employee and the period for which each employee is furloughed and a claim made under the scheme.
If employers have fewer than 100 furloughed staff they will be asked to enter details of each employee they are claiming for directly into the system - this will include their name, National Insurance number, claim period and claim amount, and payroll/employee number (optional).
If there are 100 or more furloughed staff the employer will be asked to upload a file with the information rather than input it directly into the system. HMRC will accept the following file types: .xls .xlsx .csv .ods
The file should include the following information for each furloughed employee: name, National Insurance number, claim period and claim amount, payroll/employee number (optional).
If employers use an agent who is authorised to act for them for PAYE purposes, they will be able to make a claim on the employer’s behalf. If the employer uses a file only agent (who files their RTI return but doesn’t act for them on any other matters) they won’t be authorised to make a claim and employers will need to make the claim themselves. The file only agent can assist employers in obtaining the information they need to claim (listed above).
If an agent makes a claim on the employer’s behalf, the employer will need to tell them which bank account they would like the grant to be paid into.
What if I have already just made redundancies or employees have recently left?
You can re-hire and furlough any ex-employees who have left provided they fit into the following criteria, but it’s entirely your choice. You can re-hire and furlough someone who left after 28 February 2020 provided they were on your payroll on 28 February 2020 and had been notified to HMRC on a RTI submission on or before 28 February 2020. This means a RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 28 February 2020. You can also re-hire anyone who left on or after 19 March 2020 but they must have been on your payroll on 19 March 2020 and have been notified to HMRC on a RTI submission on or before 19 March 2020. This means an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 19 March 2020.. Other employees may be in the position where they are serving out their notice of redundancy but have not yet left the company. Employers may choose to withdraw the redundancy notice and place the employee on furlough instead. Employers can use the letter to withdraw a redundancy and offer furlough.
Can I agree to re-hire and furlough in any other circumstances?
Yes. Anyone who left your organisation after 28 February 2020 but before 19 March 2020 can be re-hired and placed on furlough. This means that the ex-employee must have been notified to HMRC through a RTI submission on or before 28 February 2020. However, this is not an obligation and you can decide whether to do this or not. Anti-discrimination laws are likely to apply here. How long does furlough last?
Furlough must be taken in minimum blocks of three weeks in order to be eligible for the funding. For now, the maximum period would appear to be four months because that is how long the Government has said the Scheme will be available for. However, it may be extended.
Can I rotate employees on furlough?
Yes, it appears so. Employees can be put on furlough more than once so you can, for example, place Employee Set A on furlough while Employee Set B continue to work. Then Set B can be put on furlough while Set A come back to work. Set A can then be furloughed again etc.
Can the employee undertake any work during furlough?
No. The employee must not be working for you, or any linked or associated organisation. If they work for even an hour (during their minimum three week furlough period) you cannot claim the grant for this period.
Are all types of work related activity banned during furlough?
Employees are able to undertake training and do volunteer work, as long as they do not provide services to or make any money for you or any linked or associated organisation. If training is done, it is likely that this will need to be online because of the social distancing measures in place. Furloughed employees undertaking training should be paid for the time because this will be work, albeit the kind permitted during furlough.
Can my employee get another job whilst on furlough with me?
Your normal rules on employees getting second jobs will still apply, however you may wish to be flexible in the circumstances. It will be in your best interests to continue any restrictions on other employment which may create a conflict of interest e.g. work with a competitor or client. If you do allow your employees to take on other work during their normal working hours, you should ensure that they understand that they must be available for duty when work is available again.
Can employee representatives who are furloughed continue with their duties, for example, if the employer is undertaking a redundancy exercise?
Whilst on furlough, employees who are union or non-union representatives may undertake duties and activities for the purpose of individual or collective representation of employees or other workers. However in doing this, they must not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of their organisation or a linked or associated organisation.
How do I select employees for furlough leave?
You must be careful not to discriminate when deciding who to furlough. In some cases it will be all employees, in others it will be certain departments. Where selection does need to take place, it may be appropriate to implement a similar selection period as would be used in a redundancy situation so that the most effective employees remain in work.
What about employees on sickness or self-isolating?
Government guidance published on 9 April 2020 confirmed that, whilst an employee receiving SSP cannot be placed on furlough, an employer is able to decide whether to place a sick employee on SSP or furlough them. This includes those who are already on sick leave, including long term sick leave, and those who fall ill during furlough. However, it is clear that it must be one or the other.
Employers who decide to pay SSP (where they are eligible to receive it) to the employee cannot claim for wages under the Scheme. Where the employee is placed on furlough, SSP payments cannot be reclaimed.
What about employees who are ‘shielding’?
Guidance published on 9 April 2020 appears to show a change in stance where those who are shielding are concerned. Guidance now states that employees who are shielding can be furloughed if they are unable to work. Previous guidance had stated that employers could only furlough those shielding where the employee would otherwise have been made redundant. This no longer appears to be the case.
On 16 April 2020, new legislation permitted employees who are 'shielding' to be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP). As outlined above SSP cannot be claimed under the scheme. You will therefore need to decide if you want to furlough staff in this position or keep providing SSP to them. The government is also expected to refund up to two weeks of SSP for coronavirus related absences, but it is currently unknown when this come into effect.
What’s the position with apprentices?
Apprentices can be furloughed in the same way as other employees and they can continue to train whilst furloughed. However, apprentices must get at least the appropriate minimum wage rate for all the time they spend training which is not covered by the reimbursement.
Where apprentices are furloughed or placed on unpaid leave, or where the nature of their employment changes and no longer supports their apprenticeship, the apprentice, employer and training provider should consider whether a break in learning would be appropriate.
Apprentices can be made redundant, however, specific advice should be taken on this as different rules may apply in different parts of the UK.
Employers who are subject to the apprenticeship levy payment must continue to pay this as normal; it is not recoverable under the scheme.
What’s the position with agency workers?
Where agency workers are paid through PAYE, they are eligible to be furloughed and receive support through this scheme, including where they are employed by umbrella companies.
Furlough should be agreed between the agency, as the deemed employer, and the worker, though it would be advised to discuss the need to furlough with any end clients involved. As with employees, agency workers should perform no work for, through or on behalf of the agency that has furloughed them while they are furloughed, including for the agency’s clients.
Where an agency supplies clients with workers who are employed by an umbrella company that operates the PAYE, it will be for the umbrella company and the worker to agree whether to furlough the worker or not.
Can I furlough employees working on a visa?
Foreign nationals are eligible to be furloughed, including employees on all categories of visa.
How does furlough interact with fixed term contracts?
Fixed term contracts which ended, without extension or renewal, on or before 19 March 2020 will not qualify for the grant once they have ended. Fixed term contracts can be renewed or extended before their natural conclusion during the furlough period without breaking the terms of the scheme. There is no minimum period which must be left to run on a fixed-term contract to enable it to be renewed or extended, but it must not have ended. The furlough period must be for a minimum period of three consecutive weeks.
Where a fixed term employee’s contract ends because it is not extended or renewed before its natural conclusion you will no longer be able claim a grant for them once the contract ends.
However, an employee on a fixed term contract can be re-employed, furloughed and claimed for if either:
• their contract expired after 28 February 2020 and an RTI payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before 28 February 2020 or
• their contract expired after 19 March 2020 and an RTI payment submission for the employee was notified to HMRC on or before 19 March 2020.
Employees that started and ended the same contract between 28 February 2020 and 19 March 2020 will not qualify for this scheme. This is not specific to employees on fixed-term contracts, the same would apply to employees on all other contracts.
Does annual leave accrue during furlough?
Statutory minimum annual leave entitlement will continue to accrue because the contract of employment is still in existence. You may want to agree that contractual leave in excess of the statutory minimum does not accrue, however, this may present a blocker to obtaining employees’ agreement.
Can annual leave be taken at the same time as furlough?
Yes. On 17 April 2020, the Government confirmed this point. It was also clarified that employers must pay the employee’s normal pay for any annual leave but will still only be able to claim 80% of pay through the scheme. The rest must be topped up by the employer. Normal rules will apply to annual leave requests from employees during furlough which means that employers can refuse the request. Some employers may choose to do this in light of the requirement to ‘top up’ pay to 100% during annual leave.
Please note that this is likely to be subject to change from the start of August. Further details are expected at the end of May.
Can I require my employees to take annual leave during furlough?
The Government has still not addressed this in its guidance. It may seem contrary to the general purpose of the WTR which provides paid time off when the worker would otherwise have been working. For this reason, employers may choose not to require furloughed employees to take annual leave until further clarification is received. Another reason may be the requirement to pay 100% of wages during annual leave.
It should be mentioned that the Working Time Regulations 1998 have recently been amended to allow for four weeks of leave to be carried over into the next two leave years where leave could not be taken due to coronavirus. This now means that all statutory minimum annual leave can be carried over, albeit carrying over the 1.6 weeks of additional leave is still subject to agreement by the employer and can only be carried over into the next leave year. Carry over of any contractual leave in excess of the statutory minimum is subject to agreement between employer and employee.
This extension to the carry over rules means that it is less of a concern for employers that employees have a potentially large amount of backed up leave to take once the pandemic passes.
How does furlough interact with maternity leave?
Those about to go on maternity leave will go on leave as normal.
It appears that an employee can be furloughed if they are on maternity leave, or other family related leave, although this has not been expressly confirmed by the Government.
Guidance states that, where employers pay enhanced maternity pay, they can claim for this under the scheme and it does not appear that this would be the case if employees could not be on maternity leave and furlough at the same time. The same applies to pay during paternity, adoption and shared parental leave.
The position on assessing the level of payment to be made during leave was confirmed by the Government on 24 April 2020. Eligibility for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is calculated with reference to earnings during a prescribed 8 week period. New legislation provides that, where statutory maternity leave begins on or after 25 April 2020, entitlement to SMP will be calculated on the employee’s normal, full earnings rather than their furlough pay.
The same applies to paternity leave, adoption leave, shared parental leave and parental bereavement leave.
What’s the specific position in guidance on early years provision, children’s social care and education?
On 17 April 2020, guidance was released which deals specifically with early years, children’s social care and education. This appears to set out tighter restrictions on the use of the scheme by these sectors. Whilst the general guidance says that the Govt does not expect public sector employers to use the scheme, the following creates a structure by which these particular sectors may use it. Using the scheme in a way that doesn’t align with the rules may jeopardise funding in the future.
There are various types of support open to these industries. However, the Govt expects that all relevant organisations should first consider any potential options to reduce their operating cost and secure commercial loans e.g. Business Interruption Loans, before seeking to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or seeking specific support from the Department for Education (DfE).
Educational settings that are in receipt of some public funding should only furlough employees if they meet the following conditions:
• the employee works in an area of business where services are temporarily not required and where their salary is not covered by public funding
• the employee would otherwise be made redundant or laid off
• the employee is not involved in delivering provision that has already been funded
• (where appropriate) the employee is not required to deliver provision for a child of a critical worker and/or vulnerable child
• the grant from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme would not lead to financial reserves being created
The Govt is developing an online tool that will support the education, early years, and children’s social care sectors, in working through this guidance, and understanding the different funding and financial measures available to support them, and their workforce, through this period of disruption caused by coronavirus.
Can furloughed staff take part in disciplinary and grievance procedures?
New guidance from Acas, released on 6 May 2020, details that furloughed staff can take part in such procedures, provided rules on social distancing and public health are followed. It will be up to the organisation if these procedures can still proceed fairly.
Does furlough affect pay during the statutory notice period?
Yes. The same rules that apply during the statutory notice period in a lay off situation will apply during furlough. That means that if an employee is serving their notice period when on furlough, the starting point is that their statutory notice pay is protected meaning that they will be due full pay. As usual, we then need to look at the length of the notice periods. If the notice period for dismissal is at least a week more than the statutory notice for dismissal, then the pay protection no longer applies and the position reverts to contractual pay, which will be furlough pay
What steps have been taken to prevent abuse of the Scheme?
Chancellor Rishi Sunak stated, in his Government briefing on 8 April 2020, that the Scheme had been put together in a way to prevent spurious claims. HMRC’s Chief Executive, Jim Harra, confirmed measures had been put in place to minimise fraud, which were:
• the requirement for an employer to have already been authenticated by HMRC
• a four- to six-day payment processing period to allow background checks
• checks on employers after a payout has been made to verify a claim was real
Payments may be withheld or need to be repaid it claims were based on dishonest or inaccurate information or found to be fraudulent. A hotline has also been set up on which employees can report employers’ abuse of the system.