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As we saw earlier in the year, guidance on support for businesses and their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic is fast changing as the Government works to catch up with the spread of the disease and the impact it is having on the economy.

To that end, the Government has issued a number of updated sets of guidance on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) over the last few weeks and, on Friday 13 November 2020, provided a detailed Treasury direction (‘the direction’) on the extended scheme.

What remains the same?

Much of what is contained in the updated guidance and the direction remains the same as the previous versions of the CJRS or relates to information we were already aware of. For example, both sets confirm that the scheme will be extended through to 31 March 2021, although the direction in its current form only covers up to 31 January 2021.

Both also reconfirm the eligibility criteria for claims made on or after 01 November 2020 which, in summary, are that:

  1. Employers must have a qualifying PAYE scheme (i.e. a PAYE scheme which is registered on HMRC’s real-time information system) at the time of making the CJRS claim and which was registered with HMRC on or before 30 October 2020;
  2. Employees must have been on the employer’s PAYE scheme and an RTI submission must have been made on or before 30 October 2020.

Where eligible, employers can claim for 80% of the employee’s usual wage for any non-worked hours. Employers will only have to contribute employer NICs and pension contributions.

What’s new?

There are, however, some key aspects of the scheme that have changed and which will potentially impact employers who are using the scheme.

Generally, the direction covers in detail the points summarised below, together with key information on claim periods, reference periods for calculating an employee’s usual hours and/or pay and the types of payments that can be included when undertaking any such calculation.

Notice periods

The biggest change included in both the guidance and the direction is in relation to those employees who are serving their notice periods. Both documents now confirm that for CJRS claims starting on or after 01 December 2020, employers can no longer claim for any days on or after 01 December 2020 during which the employee was serving either their contractual or statutory notice period. This applies equally to people serving either notice of retirement or notice of resignation.

This differs greatly to the previous versions of the scheme, whereby claims which covered an employee’s notice period could be made.

Publication of information about employers who use the scheme

The direction also sets out that HMRC must publish information about employers who receive a payment under the CJRS in respect of the December 2020 and/or January 2021 claim periods.

This information will be published on the gov.uk website and will include the name of the employer, their company reference number and the amount (or a reasonable indication of the amount) of the CJRS claim made by them. So far, the only exception to this that we are aware of is where publication will expose the employer, its officers or employees to serious risk of violence or intimidation.

Furlough agreements

In addition, where an employer seeks to make a claim using the scheme, written furlough agreements must be made before the beginning of the period to which the relevant CJRS claim relates. The agreement can, however, be subsequently varied to reflect any further amendments agreed between parties during the claim period.

Claim submission deadlines

The direction imposes the following deadlines for claims to be submitted to HMRC:

  • 14 December 2020 in relation to claims for the November 2020 period;
  • 14 January 2021 in relation to claims for the December 2020 period;
  • 15 February 2021 in relation to claims for the January 2021 period.

These deadlines may be extended where there is a ‘reasonable excuse’ for the failure to make the claim in time and the claim is then made within such further time as HMRC may allow. Employers should seek urgent advice where they do not think they will be able to make the claim by the set deadline.

The full Treasury direction on the extended scheme (consisting of some 31 pages) can be downloaded here.

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