Thousands apply for grants on furlough portal’s first day

An empty St Pancras International station during lockdown.
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More than 140,000 employers applied for wage grants under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme within the first eight hours of the claims portal going live, despite reports of technical problems.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said that by 4pm yesterday (20 April) employers applied for grants to help pay the wages of more than one million employees. Organisations will receive their funds within six working days of their application.

In the first 30 minutes of the portal going live, employers had made claims for 67,000 jobs.

Sunak said: “It’s important to be clear why we have introduced the CJRS, and the other schemes we’ve put in place to support the self-employed and businesses.

“We’ve never seen an economic crisis like this one. Times like this demand that we put aside ideology and orthodoxy. Times like this demand that the state turns to its most immediate purpose: the protection and support of its people.

“The goal of the new schemes we’ve developed is to maintain as many people as possible in their existing jobs.”

Sunak said people had come out of retirement, put aside their normal duties, and “worked around the clock” to launch the system yesterday.

However, many users reported problems including the website crashing; an incorrect reference to a Real Time Information cut-off date of 16 March, rather than 19 March (this has now been corrected); an online calculator returning incorrect results; the portal not allowing overlapping furlough periods for different staff within the same month; and various other inconsistencies and technical problems.

HMRC chief executive Jim Harra told the BBC that it had scaled up its IT system to cope with the maximum number of claims it could receive. “There are well over two million Pay-As-You-Earn schemes and our system is big enough to handle a claim from every one of those,” he said.

At the government’s daily press conference yesterday, Sunak said the government had not yet been able to estimate how many organisations had put staff on furlough and refused to be drawn on the cost of the scheme or whether it would be extended again. Last week, the scheme was extended from the end of May to the end of June.

Before the CJRS was extended the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated the cost of the scheme at £42bn.

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