Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme Update

The Government has recently updated its Guidance for employers who are claiming wages through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme:

Employers should be aware of the tight deadlines that have been set out for making claims under the newly extended scheme. 

For example, you only have until 30 November 2020 to submit outstanding claims for the period 1 July 2020 to 31 October 2020.

Going forward, claims must be submitted within 14 calendar days following the month you wish to claim for (unless this falls on a weekend or bank holiday, in which case claims must be submitted on the next working day). 

The Guidance helpfully sets out the payment deadlines for each month that employers may claim for under the CJRS extension as follows: 

For furlough days in:            Claims must be submitted by:

November 2020                     14 December 2020
December 2020                     14 January 2021
January 2021                          15 February 2021
February 2021                        15 March 2021
March 2021                             14 April 2021

So, if you have employees who are still furloughed, DO make a note of these dates.  If you fail to submit a claim by the relevant deadline date, then in all probability you will have to pay the relevant furlough pay yourself. 

The Guidance does set out a list of examples of the sort of circumstances that would potentially be considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ for late submission of a claim:

  • your partner or another close relative died shortly before the claim deadline
  • you had an unexpected stay in hospital that prevented you from dealing with your claim
  • you had a serious or life-threatening illness, including Coronavirus related illnesses, which prevented you from making your claim (and no one else could claim for you)
  • a period of self-isolation prevented you from making your claim (and no one else could make the claim for you)
  • a fire, flood or theft prevented you them from making your claim
  • delays related to a disability you have prevented you from making your claim
  • your computer or software failed just before or while you were preparing your online claim
  • service issues with HMRC online services prevented you from making your claim

Although we note that there is reference to computer issues and issues with the online service, we suggest that you don’t leave it until the last minute to claim either.  The Government Guidance ominously, but expressly, states that “Online services may be slow during busy times”. Logging on at 10.30pm on deadline day and finding the system on a ‘go-slow’ may not cut it for HMRC as a ‘reasonable excuse’ – particularly given the stark warning in the Guidance about the systems running slow.  It will be interesting to see what sort of disputes arise between Companies and HMRC over these deadlines.

Finally, on a slightly different note, the Guidance finishes with a somewhat sobering statement that employers have three options when the scheme ends at the end of March :

  • Bring employees back to work on normal hours
  • Bring them back on reduced hours
  • Terminate their employment

We think that this is a rather blunt, simplistic approach and there may well be other more nuanced options here for employers to explore (sabbaticals, unpaid leave, annualised hours contracts etc).  We would certainly urge employers to start thinking now about how best to cope with the end of the furlough scheme and to seek legal advice on their various options.  

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