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Furlough extends again

So here we go again: the furlough scheme’s extended on the same arrangements until the end of April.

We’re updating this blog as things are fleshed out or change.

Furlough scheme

It’s now available until April 2021 with lower costs for employers. You can furlough anyone including employees who haven’t been furloughed before, as long as they were on your payroll by 30th October.

Employees will receive 80% of their pay from the scheme up to a monthly £2,500 maximum. Firms can furlough people full-time or ask them to work part-time. Currently there are no minimum working hours for this option.

The costs for employers appear to be 5% of pay, to cover National Insurance and pension contributions – which is a big improvement on the higher costs for previous months.

Here’s more information from the government.

Rishi Sunak’s announced the scheme will be reviewed in January and at that point he will decide if employer costs should increase.

 

Offices: closed or open?

This bit keeps changing, depending on which Tier is relevant and any future lockdown. Sussex is in Tier 2 so you have to eat a meal to be in a pub. If you’re in Teir 3 (London and Kent) then pubs and restaurants are shut.

Certain workplaces have to close but anything not on that list, including offices and co-working places, seemed able to stay open, as long as the premises were Covid-secure and followed the required guidelines.

But going to the office during any future lockdown carries risks: it’s a criminal offence unless you can prove there’s a good reason for not working at home. That’s a £200 fine and subsequent fines double.

Lawyers Lewis Silkin have an excellent blog about this issue.

The burden of proof for employees would be: is it “reasonably possible” to work from home? Unless you can prove it isn’t, you aren’t going to be protected for leaving your home and working elsewhere. It’s a much tougher test than the earlier lockdown.

 

England only or UK wide?

All UK areas can use the furlough scheme. Rishi Sunak has confirmed businesses in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland can apply for furlough funds until April 2021.

 

No £1,000 bonus

The £1,000 Job Retention Bonus for each employee brought back from furlough and kept employed until January has been scrapped.

 

What happens in 2021?

Well, the furlough scheme runs until April 2021. The current position is that regions (counties or sometimes parts of a county) are in Tiers, with different levels of restrictions. We’ll update this blog if the Tiers change.

After April, the furloughs stop and the tweaked but then abandoned Job Support Scheme should become available.

It depends on so many things that could change along the way, including whether employer costs increase in January 2021. Watch this space.

 

Shielding and health issues

If you previously received a letter from your GP or NHS advising that you are clinically vulnerable then discuss it with your employer. You may be eligible to go on furlough or receive Statutory Sick Pay, or the Employment Support Allowance or Universal Credit, if you are unable to work.

Concerns about risks to your health or others may not be enough to argue that you cannot work, if you don’t have evidence such as the letter advising that you were deemed to be clinically vulnerable, which was sent to people with chronic illnesses. Here’s more information and letters are expected to be sent (by GPs or the NHS) to clinically extremely vulnerable people shortly.

 

What happens next?

We’ll see what changes and particularly during Parliamentary debates. Then further guidance should be issued, which (based on previous experiences) means there are bound to be some tweaks, clarifications and surprises.

If anything significant changes, we’ll update this blog immediately.

 

By Brian

 

Last updated 18/12/2020 

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