The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme) was put in place to support employers who are not able to operate as normal due to the pandemic. By designating employees as “furloughed”, employers have been able to recover a portion of employee wage costs up to a £2500 cap. As confirmed by the Government Budget delivered on 3 March 2021, the scheme will continue to operate until the end of September 2021 with some adjustment to funding levels from July 2021.
Until end of June 2021, the grant is 80% to a maximum of £2500 per employee per month for hours unworked. Employees on full furlough (not working any hours at all), will get 80% of their wages per month unless their employer decides to top it up to 100%. Where an employee is on flexible furlough (working only some hours), they will be paid in full by their employer for the hours they work and the grant will cover 80% of pay for their unworked hours only, subject to a cap which will be less than £2500.
Changes from 1 July 2021
As we move to 1 July 2021, the Government’s grant will reduce to 70% of furloughed employees’ wage costs for their unworked hours at a cap of £2187.50. Pay for furloughed employees must remain at a minimum of 80% at a cap of £2500 which means that employers must contribute 10% up to £312.50 from their own pocket. Further changes continue into August.
From 1 August 2021 until the scheme ends, the Government’s grant will reduce a final time to 60% of furloughed employees’ wages for their unworked hours at a cap of £1875. With the 80% rule still intact, employers will need to contribute 20% to staff wages up to £625. Therefore, from July through to the end of September, employers will have to cover a portion of the employee’s actual wages, as well as the National Insurance and pension contributions.
Not every employer will be able to afford to contribute towards furloughed staff wages. Employers who have been topping up their staff wages by 20%, so that they receive all of their pay instead of just 80% of it, may be able to accommodate the contributions. However, many may not be able to, particularly smaller employers.
It may be that employees have to be brought back to work on a part-time basis (flexible furlough) to avoid making redundancies. However, this will depend on how much work is available.
It is important to note, as mental health awareness carries on making headlines, that employees may be struggling during this period. It is advisable to offer them support in the form of an employee assistance programme (EAP) or equivalent.
Protecting your business interests
Employers will need to consider how they can protect their business interests. This could, again, take the shape of bringing staff back into work or allowing them to work from home, if possible, and if work is available.
However, employers will also need to consider the following.
- Keep track of furlough contributions and payments to ensure staff are being paid correctly and that the business is not over/underclaiming (to avoid furlough fraud).
- Reduction in staff hours — employers may want to make structural changes to their workforce if possible, such as reducing the number of hours that their employees work, bringing them back on a part-time basis. Employees need to agree to this change as it will impact on the terms and conditions of their current contracts. Most importantly, employees cannot be forced to reduce their hours, but communicating with them about its necessity, if the company is under financial strain, may persuade them into forming an agreement.
- Lay-offs and short-time work — otherwise known as ‘”LOST”, these are usually considered as an alternative to compulsory redundancies, usually when there is a downturn in workload or the finance necessary to fund full-time employment. Employees may be placed on unpaid LOST where there is a contractual term entitling employers to do so. In the absence of such as contractual clause, employers will need to agree this with staff, otherwise it will breach the employees’ contracts of employment.
- Redundancy — employers should consider whether there are alternative measures that could be utilised to reduce the need for redundancies as this should be a last resort option.
The furlough scheme has been somewhat of a saving grace for a lot of employers while coronavirus lockdown restrictions have been in place. As these restrictions are slowly eased, based on coronavirus data, employers may find that they no longer need to make use of the scheme, or it may be that flexible furlough takes centre stage. Either way, employers will need to consider how they can accommodate the upcoming changes and support staff during this time.
The UK government has confirmed that its plastic packaging tax (PPT) will come into force on 1 April 2022.
The PPT will be charged at a rate of £200 per metric ton of chargeable plastic packaging components of a single specification.
It will apply to plastic packaging components manufactured in or imported into the UK.
Plastics covered by the tax include bioplastics, including biodegradable, compostable and oxo-degradable plastics.
The tax will not be chargeable on plastic packaging which has 30% or more recycled plastic content, or where the packaging is made of multiple materials of which plastic is not proportionately the heaviest when measured by weight.
This includes importers of packaging which already contain goods, such as plastic bottles filled with drinks and where the imported packaging already contains other goods as the tax only applies to the plastic packaging itself.
The introduction of the plastic packaging tax is designed to encourage the use of recycled rather than new plastic within plastic packaging and will in turn stimulate increased levels of recycling and collection of plastic waste, diverting it away from landfill or incineration.
Internet link: GOV.UK
Businesses that deferred VAT payments last year have less than a month left to join online and pay in monthly instalments under the VAT Deferral New Payment Scheme, HMRC has warned.
The online portal for the new payment scheme will close on 21 June 2021.
Over half a million businesses deferred £34 billion in VAT payments due between March and June 2020 under the VAT Payment Deferral Scheme. Businesses had until 31 March 2021 to pay this deferred VAT or, if they could not afford to do so, they could go online from 23 February to set up a new payment scheme and pay by monthly instalments to spread the cost.
Jim Harra, HMRC’s Chief Executive, said:
‘Businesses that deferred paying their VAT last spring have until 21 June to join the VAT Deferral New Payment Scheme online. They should act now to avoid missing out on this opportunity to spread payment of their deferred VAT across monthly, interest-free, instalments.
‘The new payment scheme is part of the Government package of support worth over £350 billion to help protect millions of jobs and businesses during the pandemic and as we emerge on the path to recovery.
‘HMRC will continue to do all we can to help businesses as they reopen and rebuild.’
HMRC has confirmed that the fifth Self-employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) grant covering the period May 2021 to September 2021 will open to claims from late July.
To be eligible for the grant, an individual must be self-employed or a member of a partnership. They must have traded in the tax year 2019/20 and submitted their tax return on or before 2 March 2021, and also have traded in the tax year 2020/21. Claimants must either be currently trading but are impacted by reduced demand due to coronavirus or have been trading but are temporarily unable to do so due to coronavirus.
The amount of the fifth grant will be determined by how much an individual’s turnover has been reduced in the year April 2020 to April 2021.
HMRC will provide more information and support by the end of June 2021 to help individuals work out how their turnover was affected.
The online claims service for the fifth SEISS grant will be open from late July 2021. In mid-July HMRC will contact individuals who are eligible based on their tax returns to give them a date from which they can make their claim.
Internet link: GOV.UK publications
Employees who are working from home will need to make new claims for tax relief for the 2021/22 tax year, HMRC has stated.
From 6 April 2020, employers have been able to pay employees up to £6 a week tax-free to cover additional costs if they have had to work from home.
Employees who have not received the working from home expenses payment direct from their employer can apply to receive the tax relief from HMRC.
HMRC has also confirmed that the £6 per week payment is available in full, even if an employee splits their time between home and the office.
The allowance is to cover tax-deductible additional costs that employees who are required to work from home have incurred, such as heating and lighting the workroom, and business telephone calls.
Last year an online portal was launched that allows employees to claim tax relief for working at home. The portal was set up to process tax relief on additional expenses for employed workers who have been told to work from home by their employer during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Internet link: GOV.UK