UK Covid-19: round-up of recent changes concerning CJRS claims and lockdown rules
- Employers claiming for furloughed employees under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) need to keep a close eye on deadlines. Monthly deadlines for claims must be now met unless an employer has a ‘reasonable excuse’ for a late claim (see here); the next deadline is 15 February 2021. More imminent is the deadline for applying for claim details to be withheld from publication. HMRC intends to publish a list of the names of employers who have claimed under the scheme since 1 December 2020 on 26 January 2021, and from February HMRC will publish employer names, company numbers and the band of claim value every month. Employers wishing to be excluded from publication (on the ground that this would result in serious risk of violence or intimidation to certain individuals) should apply as soon as possible; the procedure for doing so has now been added to the Guidance.
- The CJRS has now been extended until the end of April 2021. The CIPD and CBI have both argued that the Government should act now to extend the scheme to the end of June 2021 (potentially with reduced levels of wage support from the beginning of May);
- The third national lockdown was announced on 4 January 2021 and is expected to last until at least mid-February; regulations implementing the lockdown expire on 31 March 2021. The Stay at Home guidance provides that people may leave for work only if they cannot ‘reasonably’ work from home and urges employers to take every possible step to facilitate employees working from home; where workplaces are open, COVID-19 secure guidelines should be followed closely and extra consideration given to those people at higher risk.
- CJRS guidance has been amended to make clear that the ability to furlough employees with caring responsibilities includes those who are unable to work all or some of their hours due to caring for children who are at home as a result of school and childcare facilities closing during the lockdown (as well as those caring for a vulnerable individual in their household). The Government has so far resisted calls to give parents and other carers a legal right to be put on furlough. Some large employers have adopted alternative measures to assist working parents, including additional paid leave and increased flexibility over hours.
- With the clinically extremely vulnerable now advised to shield once again (in Tier 4 from 20 December, and nationally from 5 January until 21 February 2021), meaning that they are strongly advised to work from home and not to attend work if they cannot work from home, the guidance also makes express the point that employers do not need to be facing a wider reduction in demand or be closed to be eligible to claim furlough for employees who are clinically extremely vulnerable or at the highest risk of severe illness from coronavirus. Statutory sick pay remains available as an option for employees who are shielding.
- Guidance for pregnant employees published on 23 December 2020 advises greater precautions for those who are 28 weeks pregnant and beyond, or have an underlying health condition, given the increased risk of severe illness and pre-term birth. For many workers this may require working flexibly from home, potentially in a different capacity, or suspension on paid leave.
- Plans have been announced to roll out asymptomatic testing across all areas to focus on key workers unable to work from home. Regulations now provide that payments made by employers to employees between 25 January 2021 and 5 April 2021 (inclusive) to cover the costs of COVID-19 antigen tests are disregarded for NIC purposes; HMRC has confirmed it will exercise its discretion to apply the same approach to payments made earlier in the 2020-21 tax year.
- Due to concerns over the emergence of new variants of coronavirus globally, from 18 January 2021 all travel corridors were removed, requiring all international travellers arriving in England to take a pre-departure test and self-isolate for 10 days (usually subject to the test to release scheme). International travel from certain countries (in South America, Africa and Portugal) is banned save for returning residents, who must self-isolate for the full 10 days (and cannot ‘test to release’) – see here. Exemptions from quarantine for various jobs, including for senior executives bringing significant economic benefit to the UK, have been suspended. These measures are to be reviewed on 15 February 2021.