What is the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?
All employers in the UK are eligible to participate in the scheme. The purpose of the scheme is to allow employers to claim back employment costs if they have furloughed employees arising from the coronavirus crisis. Importantly this means the scheme is not limited to cases where the employee would otherwise have been made redundant.
- Between 1 November 2020 – 30 June 2021, the government will reimburse employers for 80% of wage costs, up to a cap of £2,500 per month, with employers expected to contribute 10% of that 80% in July 2021 and 20% of that 80% in August and September 2021. Employers will still need to pay employer NICs and employer pension contributions (these cannot be claimed for).
- The scheme now also allows employees to return to work part time being on furlough for the remainder. See flexible furlough above for more information.
- The employer can agree to pay the employee more than it will be reimbursed but it cannot reclaim the additional amount or any other costs associated with the additional amount.
- The workers covered by the scheme are those who have been “furloughed” which is a leave of absence.
- Workers must be told about and agree to this change of status (see below).
- Employers have to continue to pay the furloughed workers and the Government will reimburse the employer.
- HMRC is administering the scheme and it has been extended until the end of September 2021
- Those who left employment and are re-employed and subsequently furloughed by agreement are eligible (please see the FAQ regarding redundancy and furlough above).
- Payments may be withheld if claims are based on inaccurate or dishonest information, or are found to be fraudulent. HMRC has put in place an online hotline for employees and the general public to report suspected fraudulent claims.
- The Government has made alternative help available for employers to continue to pay employees while the scheme is set up.
The end user client will be responsible for assessing if the contractor is employed or self-employed for tax purposes. It is required to take reasonable care in carrying out the assessments.
When an assessment is carried out the outcome must be confirmed to the contractor with accompanying reasons in a Status Determination Statement (SDS). This SDS must be provided to the contractor before making payment to them. It must also be provided to the agency if there is one in the chain (more on this later).
The end user client must have a dispute resolution procedure to enable to the contractor or agency to appeal the assessment outcome.
Under their obligations arising from Regulation 36 of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, landlords must service domestic gas appliances on an annual basis and provide tenants with a record of the service within 28 days of that service. Failure to comply can result in prosecution by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or downgrading by the Regulator.
We know how important this is. But how can you comply with your obligations during the Covid-19 epidemic?
The latest restrictions on leaving the home, currently allow registered gas engineers to undertake essential work, whilst taking the appropriate precautions advised to avoid spreading or contracting the virus in a new setting.
The Cabinet Office has published a useful Procurement Policy Note (“PPN”) on relief available to suppliers due to Covid-19 (available here). In brief, you should not be penalised by a public sector body, if, in the current circumstances, you are unable to comply (fully or partly) with your contractual obligations. Public sector bodies are expected to work with suppliers and, if appropriate, provide relief against current contractual terms. This is in order to maintain business and service continuity and avoid claims being accepted for other forms of contractual relief, such as the occurrence of a force majeure event.
The types of relief that may be available to suppliers to the public sector will depend on the existing contracts in place. Some contracts may have a payments by result mechanism, whereas others may be based on certain key performance indicators (KPIs) being met. Other contracts may not include any such mechanisms and therefore it will be a matter for discussion between suppliers and the public sector body.
The PPN provides that, rather than a supplier seeking to invoke a clause that would permit the supplier to suspend performance of its obligations (such as a force majeure clause), public sector bodies should first work with the supplier to amend or vary the contract. Any changes should be limited to the particular circumstances and considered on a case-by-case basis. Changes could include:
- Amending the contract requirements
- Varying timings of deliveries
- Relaxing KPIs or service levels
- Extending time for performance (e.g. revising a contract delivery plan), and/or
- Preventing the public sector from exercising any rights or remedies against the supplier for non-performance (e.g. liquidated damages or termination rights).
These should only be temporary variations and the contract should return to the original terms once the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the contract has ended. Discussions with the public sector body about any changes that are agreed should be documented, in a variation signed by both parties.
A public sector may also need to take account of regulation 72 of the Public Contract Regulations 2015, to ensure that any changes to a contract (even of a temporary nature) do not trigger a requirement to conduct a new tender process. Whilst this may be unlikely to be the case with temporary variations, suppliers should still bear this in mind when discussing any changes to a contract with a public sector body.
If you are a supplier to a public sector body and you are currently struggling to meet your contractual obligations, we recommend that you take legal advice as to whether it might be possible to take advantage of the flexible approach that the PPN requires public sector bodies to adopt – it could be that you can avoid service credits or other financial deductions, or the need to serve formal notices such as “force majeure” or other relief notices.
As with a Will, your solicitor can take instructions by telephone, Skype or a similar tool. Your solicitor can then post or email the documentation to you. As with Wills, your signature and those of your proposed Attorneys will need to be witnessed, but in this case only by one other person. However, there are specific requirements as to who can witness your signature. The witness must be aged 18 or older and cannot be your Attorney but they can be your Certificate Provider.
Your Certificate Provider must either be someone you have known personally for at least two years or an appropriate professional. However, they must not be your Attorney and they must not be a member of your family or the partner, boyfriend or girlfriend of a member of your family or a business partner or employee of yours.
Also, if you are living in a care home, the Certificate Provider cannot be the owner, manager, director or employee of the home you live in.
Given the current restrictions on movement, if you have regular medical checks you could ask your GP or another medical professional to witness your signature and act as your Certificate Provider when you go to see them or they come to you. Alternatively, if someone you have known for two years or more is dropping off essentials, they could act as a witness and Certificate Provider remembering to retain the necessary distance and protective measures.
Concerning your Attorney(s) you cannot act as their witness. Otherwise, anyone aged 18 or older can act as their witness, including the other Attorney. Ideally, a witness to your or your Attorney’s signatures should not be a family member for the sake of impartiality and to avoid disputes. If necessary they can be.
The guidance from the Government concerning private sector organisations is very different from the guidance for public sector and organisations that receive public funding. The guidance states:
“The government expects that the scheme will not be used by many public sector organisations, as the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them. This also applies to non-public sector employers who receive public funding for staff costs. Organisations who are receiving public funding specifically to provide services necessary to respond to Covid-19 are not expected to furlough staff.”
This guidance isn’t particularly clear but it appears that there is a recognition that there are different types of organisations which could be caught by this:
- Organisations who will be required to provide frontline services during the Covid-19 response. It is interpreted that NHS organisations such as NHS Trusts will fall firmly into this category. Employees of such organisations are expected not to be furloughed and to continue to work and be paid their normal salary in the usual way.
- Organisations who receive public funding to provide services to respond to the Covid-19 crisis. These organisations are not expected to furlough their staff. The type of organisation that would fit into this category are those that have been commissioned to developing breathing apparatus or testing kits to meet the needs of the healthcare sector during the peak of the pandemic.
- Organisations who receive public funds for staff costs to operate services. Employers are expected to continue to pay staff if the money to pay them is publicly funded. It is strongly inferred that this is irrespective of whether such staff have any work to perform. The type of organisation that is likely to fall into this category are GP practices, charities and private sector companies that have won contracts with the public sector.