Number of companies claiming furlough fell in February

Pub chain Wetherspoons is in the highest bracket of furlough claimants, between £25m and £50m
Ben Molyneux /

The number of companies claiming furlough dropped by 12,000 in the month of February, according to figures from HM Revenue & Customs.

Furlough claimants peaked at just over 852,000 in January because of strict national lockdowns forcing businesses to temporarily close, but fell back to 840,387 in February.

Provisional figures for March showed that there were 4.2 million roles on furlough on 31 March 2021, and 39% of employers were using the scheme. Around 14% of all eligible roles were on furlough on this date, down slightly from 16% on 28 February.

The Office for National Statistics reported last week that the proportion of the workforce on furlough had dropped from 17% to 13% in April, so these figures are likely to drop further in coming months.

Just over a quarter (27%) of those claiming furlough at the end of February were on partial furlough, according to HMRC. Provisional figures show the number of roles on partial furlough dropped in March (from 1.29 million to 1.22 million), but the proportion of roles doing so increased slightly to 29%.

HMRC revised February’s figures after more than 400 companies decided to pay back their furlough support, including Dixons Carphone, which last month said it would repay £73m in furlough payments.

London had the highest take-up of the furlough scheme in February, at 18% compared with the national average of 16%. Eden and South Lakeland in Cumbria was the local authority with the highest take up rate.

Employees under the age of 18 had the highest take up rate at the end of February, with 41% of women and 30% of men in this age bracket on furlough. Employees aged 18 to 24 and over 65 were also more likely than average to be on furlough, HMRC said.

The data for February shows that the largest claimants of furlough continue to be companies in the hospitality and travel sectors, which were hardest hit by the pandemic.

HMRC said that the accommodation and food services sector had the highest take-up rate at the end of February, at 70%.

Pub chains JD Wetherspoons and Mitchells & Butlers, were both in the highest bracket of £25m to £50m claimed. British Airways, easyJet, Greene King and Stonegate were in the next bracket of between £10m and £25m.

The government’s job retention scheme is set to close at the end of September, with insurance company Gallagher predicting a rise in employment tribunals and disputes as companies are forced to make tough decisions about redundancy.

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