The furlough scheme will now end in September
The Job Retention (furlough) Scheme was originally established in March 2020 to assist organisations with retaining staff through business restrictions put in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, it has been extended numerous times in response to the developing situation with the virus. Now, with plans for reopening businesses over the next few months being announced across the UK, the Government has confirmed that the scheme is to be extended again, this time until 30 September 2021.
As before, furloughed workers will still get 80% of their wages for the time in which they do not work, subject to a monthly maximum of £2,500. However, the Government will start reducing their contribution to the scheme, similar to the way it was phased out last year. From July 2021, the Government will contribute 70% of wages for unworked hours, with employers asked to provide the remaining 10% so that employees still receive 80% of their wages. In August and September 2021, government contributions will decrease once more to 60%, meaning employers must provide 20%.
This news means that the furlough scheme will remain an option for eligible employers even after the lifting of all lockdown restrictions in England and Scotland – Wales has yet to confirm when it hopes to end all its restrictions. Presumably, this is to assist employers in gradually working towards pre-pandemic normality whilst also allowing for any delays to each nation’s roadmap out of lockdown if the UK Government’s tests for easing restrictions, at any stage, are not passed.
Shielding will end sooner than the furlough scheme
The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock has confirmed, at a press conference on 17 March 2021, that shielding will end in England on 1 April 2021. Mr. Hancock also announced that letters will be sent to those on the shielding list asking them, even though shielding is ending, to keep social contact at a minimum and stay at a distance from others.
In Scotland from 26 April 2021, people who are shielding can return to work. Similarly, the Welsh Government has confirmed that from 1 April 2021 shielding measures are to be paused. This means that shielded staff can return to work in Scotland and Wales if they cannot work from home, as long as the business is Covid-secure.
Employers may be faced with further questions from affected employees about possible arrangements that can be made in light of them being able to return to the workplace. It is advised that employers prioritise homeworking where possible. Guidance remains that people who can work from home should do so – this will be further emphasised in the letter sent to shielded people in England.
If homeworking is not possible, employers may wish to consider keeping affected staff on furlough if they are eligible; remember that being extremely clinically vulnerable to serious illness from coronavirus will no longer be a sufficient reason to furlough staff. Employers should also take the time to listen to employees’ concerns about returning to the workplace and act accordingly, in a manner that benefits both the employee and the business as a whole.