Once again, we are here to provide you with an update on how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the workplace.
The end of furlough
The furlough scheme has now officially closed its doors. At its peak, almost 9 million people were being supported by the scheme. Fortunately, by the end of June 2021, this number had fallen to 1.9 million. However, estimates suggest that there may have been over 1 million people still on the scheme in September 2021. So what will happen to these people now that the support of the furlough scheme has been removed?
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, claims that our recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic is “well underway”. He has pointed to large numbers of job vacancies currently being advertised by British employers. He has also claimed that the government’s ‘Plan for Jobs’ will continue to support employment opportunities right across the country in a variety of other ways. So will these measures be enough to fend off the worst effects of the furlough closure? Only time will tell.
What about that Job Retention Bonus?
Those with good memories may recall that when the furlough scheme was initially due to close towards the end of 2020, the government had planned to make a payment of £1,000 to employers in respect of each employee who returned to work from furlough and remained employed through until the end of January 2021.
When the furlough scheme was extended, it made sense for this so-called ‘job retention bonus’ to be delayed. At the time, the government said that a different scheme would be introduced at a later date. However, despite the fact that the furlough scheme has now closed, the government has been eerily silent on the details of any replacement scheme.
Any businesses waiting for news of when they can expect to receive their £1,000 may not want to hold their breath.
What about SSP?
As well as losing the furlough scheme, employers need to be aware of changes to the statutory sick pay regime which also took effect over the last few weeks.
Until the end of September 2021, employers with fewer than 250 employees were able to claim reimbursement from the government in respect of the cost of SSP payments made to staff who were absent from work due to COVID-19. However, with effect from 1 October 2021, employers will once again need to meet the cost of SSP payments themselves. Any claims for SSP payments due in respect of the period up to 30 September 2021 will need to be made before the end of the calendar year.
One of the other changes made to the SSP regime in respect of COVID-related sickness was the removal of the requirement for employees to be absent from work for at least 4 days before being entitled to SSP. Interestingly, it would appear that this temporary measure remains in place for now. As a result, employees are still entitled to SSP from day one of any COVID-related absence. However, employers will now be responsible for meeting the additional cost.
Need a hand?
As we move into the winter months, there is the prospect that COVID-19 will present further challenges to many businesses. If you need a helping hand, please get in touch.