FAQs (updated 01 June)
During the Coronavirus pandemic, there will undoubtedly be a number of challenges facing employers both large and small. Each individual organisation will need to assess its own level of exposure to business disruption. There will be a lot of dependabilities such as where and how an organisation conducts its business, do they have a site, how will day to day operations be affected and what is the reliance on its supply chain?
It is important to build a key communication team that employees can rely on for information. The team should be responsible for operating and implementing the contingency plan and allocating tasks and responsibilities appropriately and as required.
As the situation continues to develop, this team should be in regular contact to review and adapt the plans ensuring they are still fit for purpose. It is important to act as early as possible and keep everyone informed.
Please find the following information below:
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a temporary scheme open to all UK employers (COVID-19). The purpose of scheme is to enable UK businesses to retain their staff during this pandemic. More information has become available and we have identified some of the questions you may have to enable you to use the furlough scheme.
The scheme also covers employees who were on payroll as of 28 February 2020 and made redundant or stopped working after this date, if they are rehired by their employer, prior to 19 March 2020.
You cannot claim for furlough for employees not on your payroll (and RTI submission) after 19 March 2020.
The CJRS has been extended until the end of October 2020. The scheme will remains unchanged until 30 June 2020. The scheme will close to new entrants on 30 June 2020, which means furloughed employees must start their furlough from 10 June 2020. From July (originally advised as August), the government will allow furoughed employees to return to work part -time, and the government will ask employers to share the costs of the furlough.
How do I make a claim?
The portal is available from 20 April 2020, and we have been informed that you must be enrolled with PAYE online to access the scheme. If you aren’t already enrolled, please visit the HMRC’s website and get enrolled now - https://www.gov.uk/paye-online/enrol
What information do I need to enrol for PAYE online?
You will need to provide an email address, and know your HMRC office code, your Employer PAYE reference, and your Accounts Office Reference.
Where do I find the HMRC office code?
It is on the letter HMRC sent you when you registered as an employer, enter the first 3 numbers. For example, 123/A246, enter 123.
What about the Employer PAYE reference?
This is the second part of the code, after the /, for example A246.
Where do I find the Accounts office reference?
This will be on the letter you got when you first registered as an employer, and on your payment booklet. For example, 123PX12345678. You may have this noted as your HMRC Payment reference.
What if I use an external Payroll provider?
Your payroll provider will be able to provide you with all the above information, but you will need to enrol with PAYE online yourself.
Can I start my claim under CJRS now?
Yes, the portal is live from 20 April 2020. You must have all the information you require ready before you start your claim, as there is no ‘save’ option and sessions will time out after 30 minutes. We strongly recommend you read the Government guidance on making a claim before you start – the guide can be downloaded from here
You can only make one claim during each claim period, so it is recommended you make your claim before or during payroll and claim for all furloughed employees at the one time as you cannot make changes to your claim.
Once your claim is submitted, you will see a screen that displays a reference number – make sure you print this page or note down the reference number as there will not be an email confirmation.
Maintain your calculation records in case HMRC request further information on your claim.
How long will it take for claims to be paid?
Claims will be paid within 6 working days.
Can employees contact HMRC directly?
HMRC are unable to answer any queries regarding claims from employees, employees will need to direct their queries to their employer.
What employee information do I need for my claim?
To claim, you will need:
1. The number of employees being furloughed
2. The dates employees have been furloughed to and from
3. Details of employees – the name and National Insurance Number of each furloughed employee
4. Your employer PAYE scheme reference number
5. Your Corporation Tax Unique Taxpayer Reference, Self-Assessment Unique Taxpayer Reference or Company Registration Number as appropriate for your entity
6. Your UK bank account details
7. Your organisation’s registered name
8. Your organisation’s address
How will claim information be submitted?
This will depend on the number of staff you have furloughed. If you have furloughed less than 100 employees, you will be required to input the information directly into the system for each employee. If you have 100+ employees who have been furloughed, then you may upload a file with the information for each employee – this file can be .xls .xlsx .csv or .ods
I would prefer to use an agent, can I?
You may use an agent if you wish, but they must be authorised to act for you on PAYE matters. They can make the claim on your behalf using their ID and password. If you choose to use an agent, you must provide them with a UK bank account for your grant to be paid into. Not providing this information will delay funds from being paid.
From 01 July 2020, employees who have been furloughed will be able to return to work part time, providing they were furloughed for the first time before 10 June 2020. Employers will need to include employees’ usual hours and actual hours worked with their claims. The minimum claim period for furloughed hours will be one week.
From August 2020, the government will start to taper the furlough scheme, so that businesses share the cost. Furloughed employees must still receive 80% of their salary.
The incremental changes are:
80% of wages, capped at £2,500
70% of wages, capped at £2,187.50
10% of wages
60% of wages, capped at £1,875
20% of wages
If employees are unable to return to work, or you do not have enough work for them to return to work, they can remain on furlough under the current rules.
The guidance is clear that once furloughed, employees cannot carry out any responsibilities that will generate revenue and profit for their employer. Employers are able to engage with their furloughed employees and they can undertake training, such as online courses. If training is undertaken, employers must ensure that at least the national minimum wage is applied.
Furlough does not prevent employees working elsewhere. If it is permitted in the employment contract, you can be furloughed by one employer and:
- Continue to work for another employer
- Take up employment with a different employer, while remaining on furlough with your first employer
Furlough was introduced initially to enable employers to retain their workforce during a downturn of work requirements. However, there are now clear guidelines on other categories of employees that employers can furlough even if there is work for them to do, these are:
- Extremely vulnerable, those identified and contacted by letter from the NHS
- Employees sharing a household with an extremely vulnerable person
- Employees who have caring responsibilities that have been impacted by coronavirus, such as caring for children who are at home due to school and/or childcare facility closures.
These employees may ask to be furloughed due to their own circumstances, as an employer, the practical approach would be to agree. You as employer, may identify someone in one of these categories and can therefore place them on furlough.
Yes, you will need to consult and confirm in writing that this is the course of action you are taking. If you have a lay off/short term working clause in your employment contract, this gives you as the employer the right to place the employee on furlough without their explicit agreement.
You may need to seek legal advice on the process. If sufficient numbers of staff are involved, it may be necessary to engage collective consultation processes to procure agreement to changes to terms of employment.
Yes, they can, however if there is no work for them, this would put them at risk of redundancy and therefore they would not be able to return to work for you.
Yes, you can once their sickness absence has finished, during which time, you will be paying them either statutory sick pay or contractual sick pay.
Can an employee ask to be placed on furlough, especially employees that have been advised to / or want to shield themselves?
Yes, they can and in most cases, you ought to agree, especially if they are in the high risk categories.
A minimum furlough period is 3 weeks and employees cannot return earlier that this, you cannot ask your employees to do work during the furlough period.
Yes, they will accrue at least the statutory minimum entitlement.
Holiday can be taken during a period of furlough, and if this happens, you will need to top-up the pay to the usual holiday pay in accordance with Working Time Regulations.
As they cannot work for you during this period, it would be sensible to postpone or cancel any leave booked within the furlough period.
The Government are currently keeping the policy on holiday pay during furlough under review.
You will need to pay your employees through the usual payroll, you will need to adjust the pay to 80% or pay at 100% if you as an employer have decided to do so. You will then be able to claim the grant through the online government portal.
If you use an outsourced payroll provider, they will assist you with this process.
The Government have included examples of how to calculate the grant amounts in their guidance, which can be found here (page 4-5).
The government has published advice on what should be included when calculating wages. Along with regular wages, you must also include:
- Non-discretionary payments for hours worked, which includes overtime
- Non-discretionary fees
- Non-discretionary commission payments
- Piece rate payments
You cannot include any discretionary payments, benefits in kind and salary sacrifice schemes.
The grant must be paid in full to the furloughed employees, therefore you cannot make any salary sacrifice deductions from this pay. The HMRC has agreed that coronavirus will be considered a life event that can allow salary sacrifice arrangements to be amended, providing the employment contract is updated to show this change.
What about other payroll costs such as pension contributions and employers national insurance payments, can I claim back these costs? (updated 20 April)
Yes, you can claim the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions for furloughed employees.
The Government have included examples of how to calculate the grant amounts in their guidance, which can be found here (page 4-5).
If your employee has more than one employer, they can be furloughed for each job. Each job is separate, and the cap applies to each employer individually.
What if my employee is due to take parental leave such as maternity or adoption leave but has been furloughed? (Updated 27 April)
What if my employee is on another type of long-term absence such as maternity leave or unpaid leave?
If your employee is eligible for Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance, the normal rules apply, and they are entitled to claim up to 39 weeks of statutory pay or allowance.
Employees on unpaid leave cannot be furloughed, unless they were placed on unpaid leave after 28 February.
Individuals are only entitled to the National Living Wage (NLW)/National Minimum Wage (NMW) for the hours they are working. Therefore, furloughed workers, who are not working, must be paid the lower of 80% of their salary even if, based on their usual working hours, this would be below NLW/NMW.
However, on 26 February 2020, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock made it clear that those who were staying away from work as a result of medical advice to self-isolate were doing so for ‘medical reasons’ and therefore should receive sick pay.
We would advise that the approach advocated by the government is correct and employees who have been advised to self-isolate in line with government guidelines, should be treated as on sick leave and paid accordingly.
My employee has been off ill with COVID-19 but I have not received a fit note. Do I have to pay them, and should I take action against them for breaching our sickness absence policy? (updated 19 May)
Employees can self-certify sickness absence for the first 7 days (including non-working days) but after that period an employer can require them to produce a fit note from their doctor confirming they are unable to work. However, in respect of COVID-19, government advice is that employees should isolate themselves for 14 days and should not attend their doctor’s surgery during that time, thus making it impossible for them to obtain a fit note.
BEIS Guidance is that employers should exercise their discretion and not require a fit note to cover this period. We agree with this stance and would advise that sick pay should not be withheld in the absence of a fit note in these circumstances.
Employees can request an isolation note from NHS 111 to cover the period of their absence. You can request they provide you with one of these. They can generate one using the NHS 111 website https://111.nhs.uk/isolation-note/
The government has announced plans to introduce emergency legislation that enables employees to be paid Statutory Sick Pay from day one rather than after three days.
Statutory Sick Pay (Coronavirus) (Suspension of Waiting Days and General Amendment) Regulations 2020 which came into force on 28 March, for symptom-based and household isolation periods of incapacity for SSP purposes. It has since (16 April 2020) clarified the position on shielding, stating that anyone shielding within public health guidance, can be paid SSP if they meet the usual eligibility criteria.
The CJRS guidance does also allow employers to furlough employees who are shielding.
If you have less than 250 employees, you can reclaim any SSP that you have paid to employees who have been on sick leave due to coronavirus. This claim can be for up to 2 weeks per employee and is made by logging onto your PAYE online portal. The portal is open from 26 May 2020. You can find further information and guidance here.
My employee is unable to come into work because their school/ nursery is closed. Do I have to give them the time off and what should I pay them? (updated 19 May)
Employees have a legal right to take time off to deal with emergencies relating to their dependents and this includes the unexpected disruption of arrangements for the care of a dependent. In this particular context, a dependent could be the employee’s:
- spouse or partner
- a person living in the same household (but not a tenant)
- any person who reasonably relies on the employee for the provision of care
Usually this time off is unpaid unless your business provides additional contractual benefits to employees in these situations.
The amount of time off which can be taken is what would be reasonable to make alternative care arrangements. This will depend on a number of factors including the nature of the disruption, the alternatives available and financial considerations. Whilst in many cases a day or two is all that will be required, given the situation around COVID-19 it may not be feasible for a parent to make alternative arrangements in a short period of time. It has been held that an absence of 16 days was necessary in the circumstances of that particular case and therefore employers would be expected to act reasonably in these situations.
Employees with caring responsibilities for children who are unable to attend school and/or other childcare facilities due to the pandemic can request to be furloughed, even if their role has not been affected.
My employee has recently returned from an area where there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19. Can I force them to stay at home to protect my workforce and if so, what do I pay them?
If you want to be extra cautious, you can ask them to self-isolate, but you would have to pay them full pay as there is no evidence to suggest that there are medical reasons for doing this.
Annual Leave Entitlement – Relaxation on carry forward of statutory holiday entitlement, position at 1st April 2020
All employees accrue a statutory minimum annual holiday entitlement of 28 days which includes bank holidays, this is pro-rated for part time employees. Usually, this statutory minimum holiday entitlement cannot be carried forward to the next holiday year. Employers are responsible for ensuring that their workforce adhere to this legislation.
The revised regulations will allow up to 4 weeks holiday to be taken forward into the next 2 holiday years. This will mean that employees can continue to work during the national effort against Coronavirus without losing out on their annual holiday entitlement.
These changes will also ensure that employers have the flexibility to allow staff to carry forward leave at a time when granting annual leave could leave them short staffed, impacting key UK industries such as food and healthcare.
Employers remain responsible for managing and granting employees holiday absence and should continue to encourage their employees to take holiday where possible.
During this period of lockdown this will be difficult due to:
- employees placed on furlough not taking annual leave during the furlough period
- a skeleton workforce made up of a business’s key workers
- potential staff shortages due to less available employees
- potential increased sickness absence during this pandemic
Employers have a statutory duty of care for people’s health and safety, to provide a safe place to work. There is also a moral responsibility to ensure employees feel safe and secure.
Key messages from the government are to continue to enable employees to work from home if possible. Where this is not possible, every reasonable effort should be made to comply with social distancing guidelines, as well as increasing hand washing and surface cleaning.
Practical Steps to Follow:
- Reassure employees about any concerns they may have and keep them informed about contingency plans.
- Make sure everyone understands the sick pay and leave policies and how these are being implemented.
- Consider any employee assistance plans or healthcare plans in place, ensure that everyone is aware of these, these can provide helplines and assistance for those employees who may be anxious and need additional support.
- Where no employee assistance programme is in place, remind employees of where they can access free, impartial advice and support (eg. www.gov.uk, Citizens Advice Bureau)
- Consider any employees who may be vulnerable due to pregnancy, underlying health conditions and age. In this pandemic you also need to consider their family situations.
- Continue with home working where possible.
- Review HTA Safe Trading Guidance if home working is not an option (guides can be downloaded from here).
As part of contingency planning consider more flexible resourcing strategies to support covering essential operations, staff shortages and to avoid potential job losses.
Practical Steps to Follow:
- Review which roles can effectively work from home and review any technology to support this for virtual meetings and communications
- For customer-facing organisation consider introducing or maximising the use of self-service options and online services. Consider additional investment into laptops/mobile to enable increase remote working
- Increased sick absence may create a need for additional resource, liaise with your staff and see if they would be prepared to:
- Full-time employees to work additional hours, ensuring they comply with working time regulations 1998
- Part-time employees to increase their working hours/days
- Employees with transferrable skills re-deployed into other roles.
- Temporarily share resources with other similar businesses, i.e. delivery drivers, customer services.
- Operate with skeleton staff, identify essential services and roles that can’t be put on hold.
- Employees working from home to review and write process notes to enable smooth handover of tasks if required.
If the organisation is severely affected due to the nature of the business, consider other measures, such as:
- Review and postpone any planned recruitment or new employment contracts
- Temporary employee agreement and contract changes to a reduction in the hours/days that staff work
- Check if there is a contractual right to implement a lay-off or short-time working policy
- Ask employees to take leave during a specific period should a temporary closure be required, this could be a shorter period when employees must take a number of their accrued holiday days or for longer periods, this could be unpaid.
- Consider other unpaid options such as sabbaticals and parental leave
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