Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: HMRC portal announced to be open from 20 April 2020 and further Government updates

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HMRC Portal

HMRC gave evidence to the Treasury Committee on 8 April and announced that the portal to claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) will become available on 20 April 2020. HMRC intends for employers to be able to use the portal independently and free from assistance.

HMRC confirmed that it will then aim to pay employers four to six days after submission of a claim and employers will be able to claim 14 days before payments are due to employees.

Applicants will be able to access the system using their current Government gateway login and will need the National Insurance number and salary, National Insurance and Pension contribution information to enable them to accurately calculate their claim.

Further operational guidance is expected to be published by HMRC this week (week commencing 13 April 2020).

Further guidance published

The Government published further guidance on who and what is eligible under the CJRS on 9 April 2020.

The new guidance confirmed the following:

1. TUPE. A new employer is eligible to claim under the CJRS in respect of the employees of a previous business transferred after 28th February 2020 if either TUPE or PAYE business succession rules apply to the change in ownership.

2. Sick Pay and shielding employees. The guidance clarified that the CJRS is not intended for short-term absences from work due to sickness, and there is a three-week minimum furlough period, and that short-term illness or self-isolation should not be a consideration in deciding whether to furlough an employee.

If, however, employers want to furlough employees for business reasons and they are currently off sick, employers are permitted to do so, as they are with other employees; in these cases, the employee should no longer receive sick pay and would be classified as a furloughed employee. The revised guidance also clarified that employers are entitled to furlough employees who are being shielded or off on long-term sick leave and this decision is one for employers to make. 

Existing employment law continues to apply, and furloughed employees retain their statutory rights, including their right to SSP. This means that furloughed employees who become ill must be paid an amount at least equivalent to SSP. The decision as to whether to move these employees onto SSP or to keep them on furlough, at their furloughed rate, remains with the employer. 

The new guidance confirms that where a furloughed employee who becomes sick is moved onto SSP, the employer can no longer claim for the furloughed salary. Employers are required to pay SSP themselves, although they may qualify for a rebate for up to two weeks of SSP. If an employer keeps a sick furloughed employee on the furloughed rate, the employer remains eligible to claim for these costs through the CJRS. 

3. Employees returning from leave. The new guidance confirms that for those returning from statutory leave (maternity leave, paternity leave, shared parental leave, adoption leave, sick leave and parental bereavement leave) after 28 February 2020, claims should be calculated against their salary, before tax, not the pay they received while on statutory leave. Claims for those on variable pay returning from statutory leave should be calculated using either the same month’s earning from the previous year or average monthly earnings for the 2019-2020 tax year.

4. Employees on a visa. Grants under the scheme are not counted as ‘access to public funds’, and employers can furlough employees on all categories of visa.

5. Pensions. The new guidance provided clarification that employers can claim under the CJRS for employer pension contributions that are paid on the subsidised furlough pay, up to the level of the minimum automatic enrolment employer contribution. The maximum level of grant for employer pension contributions on subsidised furlough pay is set in line with the minimum automatic enrolment employer contribution of 3% on qualifying earnings. Grants for pension contributions can be claimed up to this cap provided the employer will pay the whole amount claimed to a pension scheme for the employee as an employer contribution.

6. Performing work whilst on furlough leave. The revised guidance has clarified that, when placed on furlough, an employee cannot undertake work for, or on behalf, of not only the employer’s organisation but also any linked or associated organisation.

7. Payroll consolidation schemes. The additional guidance has confirmed that businesses engaged in a PAYE consolidation scheme after 28 February 2020 are able to place employees on furlough.

8. Payment to employee. The full sum of the reimbursement must be paid to the employee, and employers cannot enter into any transaction or agreement with the employer to reduce their wages below this amount, which includes by way of administration charge, fees or other costs in connection with the employment.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the Coronavirus pandemic, the guidance on how to adapt to its impact evolves daily and becomes out of date very quickly. We recommend that you keep checking to ensure you are following the most up to date guidance, particularly as there are still some unanswered questions about the CJRS. Further, in addition to the public guidance, there are always specific circumstances that individual employers must consider, such as a particular employee or employer arrangements or issues (contractual or otherwise). If in doubt, please take advice.

You can contact our specialist Employment team on 0161 941 4000 or via email.