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Furlough portal opens for business today

Employment Associate Fiona Mendel highlights that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme portal for employers is now open.

To furlough, or not to furlough, that is the question that has most commonly been asked of Employment Solicitors. At times employers have found this dilemma a challenge of almost Shakespearian proportions.

The issue of furlough has led solicitors to cross-examine and interrogate clients to help them decide whether they should furlough their staff under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)- which ones they should furlough, how they access the scheme and equally as important, how they get people back to work afterwards. Advice for making these types of essential decisions was included in previous articles written by Head of Employment, Helen Crossland: Furloughing – changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

What I will say is that while businesses have understandably found the complexity and ambiguity of the furlough scheme to be frustrating, given the commendable speed with which it was rolled out by Government, perhaps it was inevitable that it would require some refinement. Overall, the furlough scheme is likely to provide significant support to businesses and their workers.

The Government has helpfully updated its guidance relating to the CJRS to help provide clarity to a number of previously unanswered questions, and to iron out some of the ambiguity. Businesses were, until now, in the dark as to whether annual leave during furlough leave was permissible, how the online portal would work in practice, whether it would crash and fall at the first hurdle, and whether payments would be made within the swift time frames that the HMRC had promised.

This uncertainty was addressed to some extent on Friday 17 April 2020, when to keep us on our toes, a further Government update was released which provided welcome clarity on a number of issues.

The Government has now confirmed that annual leave can be taken during furlough leave, albeit businesses will need to top up the payments to 100% if they are not doing so already. The CJRS will also be extended by another month, allowing employers to claim furlough payments until at least the end of June 2020, providing some further relief for employers, and many employees who are fearful of losing their jobs during the ongoing pandemic.

The online portal for employers to use opens (20 April 2020), and the sort of scheme that would ordinarily have taken months or even years to develop, goes live today. Businesses are advised to follow the step by step guide prior to making submissions via the online portal https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wages-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme. HMRC have committed to making payments within six working days of each submission, which will be welcomed by businesses while they are not able to operate as normal.

If you continue to wrestle with furlough or if you need clarity on any complex aspect of employment law, please contact Fiona Mendel at fiona.mendel@seddons.co.uk or your existing contact within Seddons’ Employment team.

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