Covid employer guidance updates | March 2021

Extension of CJRS and SEISS until September 2021

As part of the government's 2021 Budget, the Chancellor has confirmed that both the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (the furlough scheme) and the Self Employed Income Support Scheme will be extended until the end of September.

Further detail (together with other employment related announcements in the Budget) can be found here.

Amended shielding guidance

On 17 March 2021, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the government's shielding guidance – which reintroduced shielding for all clinically vulnerable employees with effect from 5 January 2021 – will now end on 1 April 2021. From 1 April 2021 therefore, all CEV employees will no longer be eligible for statutory sick pay on the basis that they are being advised to shield, however should continue to work from home wherever possible. If they cannot work from home, they are now being advised to attend their workplace.

Further detail on this announcement, together with practical advice on the steps employers should consider taking can be found here.

Expanded workplace/home testing for employers - act now!

On 6 March 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care announced that as part of the government's roadmap to lift Covid restrictions, all businesses – irrespective of size – can now register to participate in the free workplace testing scheme (which had previously been made available to only businesses with 50 employees or more).

Businesses have until 31 March 2021 to register for the free lateral flow tests, which will remain free of charge until the end of June. Employers can register for the scheme here.

In addition, on 28 March 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care have announced that rapid home testing will be made available from 6 April 2021 for all businesses with over 10 employees who cannot offer on-site testing, due to a lack of space or because the company operates across multiple sites.

Home testing kits will be provided to employers to distribute to their employees, for their employees to undertake the test at home and report the results to the NHS online.

Businesses have until 12 April 2021 to register for the home testing kits, which will be provided free of charge until the end of June. You are required to register now even if your business is currently closed and/or you are currently unable to provide your employees with the tests – click here to register.

For further information on testing and vaccinations in the workplace, watch our on-demand webinar here

BEIS updated guidance on making workplaces COVID-19 secure

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport have updated their collection of sector specific guidance on working safely during COVID-19. The update includes a new shorter format focussing on actions to make the workplace secure, as well as updated guidance covering step one of the roadmap regarding the easing of lockdown.

The following guidance has been updated:

CJRS statistics

On 15 March 2021, the government published updated official statistics on the CJRS, which highlighted a significant increase in the number of employees furloughed since the announcement of the third national lockdown on 4 January 2021 – the numbers increasing by 900,000 from 3.8 million on 31 December 2020 to 4.7 million by 31 January 2021.

The report also highlights the impact of the pandemic on certain sectors, with hospitality and the arts, entertainment and recreation sectors being the worst affected with 68% and 64% of eligible jobs in these sectors respectively remaining on furlough as of 31 January 2021. The worst affected age bracket has been those aged under 24, with women in this age group being more likely to have been furloughed than men.

The full report can be viewed here.

CJRS – is your "furlough" in order?

As we begin to see the gradual easing of restrictions throughout the UK, now might be a good time to look back over your records to check that all is in order with regards to claiming under the CJRS.  HMRC are in the process of contacting various companies to conduct an audit of what was claimed from inception of the scheme onwards. 

We have been supporting various clients in reviewing what they did, particularly early on, when the landscape was far less clear than it is now.  This has been useful as some have identified that they did make some errors early on and have overclaimed in some respects.  If so, proactivity and transparency with HMRC is imperative as well as accounting for any errors as the financial year draws to a close.

It is equally important to ensure that as you bring people back from furlough/flexible furlough your payroll teams are fully aware to avoid ongoing issues in this regard.

Do let us know if we can support you in looking back at what you did and taking forward necessary actions.

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