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COVID-19 furlough scheme goes live today

Lauretta Roberts
20 April 2020

The Government furlough scheme, designed to support businesses and help safeguard jobs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, has opened for applications.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has gone live today with businesses now able to claim for up to 80% of furloughed staff wages from the start of March until the end of June. The scheme had initially been due to run until the end of May but was extended by a month last week after a further three weeks at least of UK lock-down were confirmed.

The launch of the scheme comes as the Government was warned of the economic cost for many companies of any delay in its implementation. Adam Marshall, director general at the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), said the situation for so many firms was “extremely difficult”.

He was asked about the consequences of support not coming through fast enough, and told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “Well, the cost here is in terms of people’s livelihoods.

“We’re seeing for example about 66%, two-thirds of businesses, telling us that they’re going to use the furlough scheme in order to try to get some support for their employees so that they don’t have to make them redundant or lay them off.

“That’s a really big number, and unless some of that cash flows through from the furlough scheme quickly when applications open, a lot of businesses are going to face difficulty paying wages and paying suppliers.

“So the human cost as well as the economic cost could be big if we don’t see support moving more quickly to the frontline.”

Marshall told the programme: “We’ve found that about 60% of companies have less than three months’ cash in reserve, many who have seen their revenues fall off a cliff over the past month or so, and many of them are taking some really big life or death decisions as businesses.

“So the support getting to the front line over the next few days is going to be absolutely critical.”

In a statement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our unprecedented job retention scheme will protect millions of jobs across the country and is now up and running.

“It’s vital that our economy gets up and running again as soon as it’s safe – and this scheme will allow that to happen.”

Under the furlough scheme, employers can go online to claim cash grants worth up to 80% of wages, capped at £2,500 a month per worker.

Approximately 5,000 HMRC staff will operate the scheme, intended to assist thousands of UK firms, with the money due to reach bank accounts within six working days, a statement from the Treasury said.

Phone lines and web-chat services will be available to help answer applicants’ questions, with the scheme launching 10 days ahead of schedule, it added.

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