The government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme portal opened this morning (20 April), allowing businesses to claim support for furloughed employees to cover up to 80% of their salary.
HMRC chief executive Jim Harra said that employers claimed for 67,000 jobs within the first 30 minutes of it going live.
The portal, which can be accessed via HMRC’s Government Gateway, opened at 5.30am. There have been some reports of the site crashing or timing out but many users also reported the system running smoothly, provided they had all of the required information to hand.
According to the Treasury, the system can process up to 450,000 applications an hour and employers should receive payments within six working days of making an application.
HMRC has produced a guide for employers on how to calculate 80% of an employee’s salary – they can’t, for example, claim for additional National Insurance or pension contributions that top up salary packages, or any pension contributions that are above the mandatory employer contribution.
Employers can top up the government grant to cover the whole of someone’s salary but this is not mandatory.
Those who need to put more than 100 employees on furlough can upload a file containing employees’ National Insurance numbers, PAYE details and furlough dates. Those with fewer need to upload employees’ details individually.
Announcing the opening of the scheme on Twitter, chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Exactly one month ago today I announced the unprecedented decision to step in and help pay people’s wages.
“We promised support would be available by the end of April – today, we deliver our promise.”
Exactly one month ago today I announced the unprecedented decision to step in and help pay people’s wages.
We promised support would be available by the end of April – today, we deliver our promise.
— Rishi Sunak #StayHomeSaveLives (@RishiSunak) April 20, 2020
The minimum amount of time an employee can be furloughed for is three weeks. Last week, the government changed the cut-off date so that employees who were on PAYE on or before 19 March 2020, rather than 28 February, would be eligible for the scheme.
However, claims that this would help thousands of employees who started new jobs in March were criticised, as the scheme requires those employees to be on their organisation’s Real Time Information (RTI) submission to qualify. Because employers only tend to submit one RTI per month, many would still miss out on the furlough scheme.
On Friday it was announced that the scheme, initially opened for three months from 1 March, would be extended until the end of June. This followed the government’s announcement that lockdown would continue for at least another three weeks.
Rain Newton-Smith, chief economist at the CBI, welcomed the launch of the scheme.
She said: “Rolling out the job retention scheme will make a huge difference to tens of thousands of firms and millions of people, protecting jobs and living standards throughout the UK. Ensuring support gets to where it’s needed most – fast – is of the utmost importance.”