The Furlough Scheme Portal – Get Ready for “Go Live”

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Today is the much anticipated “go live” date on the furlough scheme portal – here is the link.

However, not only was it announced last week that the scheme would be extended until at least 30 June 2020, but there were a number of further Government publications released over the weekend, meaning that there are now a raft of documents for employers to consider when submitting their claims today (and beyond).

With change happening so often, we thought it would be useful to pull things together to help you piece the puzzle together (with links to the relevant documents):

  1. On Friday night (17 April 2020) the Government released two new guidance documents:
    1. A high level “step-by-step” guide as to how to make a claim, which can be found here.
    2. A guide which explains how to calculate the amount of the claim, which can be found here.
  2. In addition, both the employers’ guidance and employees’ guidance were updated further on 17 April 2020 (version numbers five).
    1. The purpose of the employers’ guidance is to provide information about eligibility for the scheme – information about the calculation of the claim and finer detail has been moved to the document at 1(b).
    2. The employees’ guidance now actively encourages employees to report their employers to HMRC if they suspect they are abusing the scheme.
  3. Treasury Direction, made pursuant to the Coronavirus Act 2020, was published on 15 April 2020.

As such, there are now five documents in play.  We have therefore sought to continue to pull together the key information from all of those documents in an updated version of our document “How to maximise your prospects of success of making a claim under the scheme” – this can be found here.  This is designed to give you a practical guide to submit the claim.

On a headline level, we have picked out five key updates to note:

  • The scheme is now open until at least 30 June 2020.
  • Whilst there are some inconsistencies between the Treasury Direction and the Guidance in respect of the issue of written consent to be furloughed, the safest course of action is to ensure that you have obtained written consent (which can be via email) from all furloughed employees. Whilst the Guidance has re-opened the possibility of implied consent being sufficient, written consent is obviously better from an evidential point of view.  Either way, the key is that there must be an agreement in place between the employer and employee in respect of the furlough leave.  More information about the legal requirements when placing employees on furlough leave can be found in our article here.
  • Guidance now confirms that holiday can be taken while an employee is on furlough leave but that it must be paid in line with the usual rules in the Working Time Regulations – as such, even if you have agreed to reduce wages during the furlough period, any days taken as holidays must be paid at the employee’s usual rate of pay. However, the Government has, unhelpfully, reserved the right to amend its position in respect of holiday pay and furlough due to the unprecedented situation!
  • In terms of headline practicalities:
    1. To access the portal on employers will need to have a Government Gateway ID and password and an active PAYE enrolment.
    2. Employers are expected to have worked out the value of their claim and have all of the relevant information ready to go prior to accessing the portal, as it will “time out” after 30 minutes and will not save any semi-completed claim.
    3. Once employers have submitted the claim, a claim reference number will be provided which must be noted or print-screened (as it will not be subsequently provided to you in an email confirmation).
  • The Government’s guidance document in respect of how to calculate the claim is not straightforward – it will require your payroll staff to take time and care over the calculations. There are worked examples within that guidance which should be carefully tracked-through.