What furlough means – everything you need to know about the furlough rules and regulations

Furloughed employees will receive 80% of their gross salaries from a government scheme

When a company doesn't have enough work or money coming in to keep the workforce as it is, they can put staff members on a temporary leave, called furlough. This is usually done as a short-term solution to cut costs during a temporary change of circumstance.

The government introduced a plan to financially support businesses during the coronavirus pandemic that will help them keep as many employees as possible on payroll during this difficult time, and later confirmed the scheme would be extended as a second lockdown was announced on 31 October 2020 and 4 January 2021 respectively. As of the March 2021 Budget, the Chancellor has continued the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) until September 2021. Businesses can still apply for a grant from the government to cover the wages of those employees they put on furlough for an agreed amount of time. Under this scheme companies can offer to furlough their staff for a minimum of three weeks.

How does it work?

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all employers across the UK have the option to furlough their staff instead of making them redundant or being laid off. This scheme allows the individual to still be employed by the company whilst receiving up to 80% of their pre-tax salary up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, for an agreed amount of time. If your employer plans to use the job retention scheme, you’ll keep your job – and all the rights that come with being employed - but you won’t be doing any work whilst you’re furloughed.

Am I eligible for furloughing?

When the scheme was first introduced, anyone who was on the PAYE payroll of a company on or before 19 March 2020 had the option to be offered furlough. This applied whether you were:

  • Full time

  • Part time

  • On a zero-hour contract

  • An agency worker or on a flexible contract

  • An apprentice – and you can still continue your training whilst on furlough

After confirming that the scheme had been extended, the latest requirements to be eligible to claim is that employees must be on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 11:59pm on 30 October 2020. An employer or employee can use the extension even if neither used the scheme the first time around.

Following the 2021 Budget, it was confirmed that the CJRS has been extended and will run until the end of September 2021. In order to qualify for the CJRS scheme, applying on or before 30 April 2021, you must have been on your employer’s PAYE payroll since 30 October 2020.

If claiming for the scheme from 1 May 2021, the qualifying period is slightly different. Your employee must have put you on their payroll on 2 March 2021. Your employer has to have given PAYE Real Time Information (RTI) notification of earnings to HMRC between 20 March 2020 and 2 March 2021.

Anyone on the 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) will still be paid standard maternity cover by their employer. Also if you’re sick and still employed, you will still receive sick pay or benefit from Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as outlined in your contract with your employer. However, you can be furloughed once you are able to return to work.

How much will I be paid if I am furloughed?

Your employer can claim a grant from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that’ll pay you for 80% of your gross monthly salary up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Since 1 July 2020, employers can bring back furloughed employees to work a flexible shift pattern. Under the extension to the scheme, flexible furloughing will still be allowed in addition to full-time furloughing, meaning employees can work any number of hours and have any time they aren’t working topped up through the furlough scheme.

Under the extension to the furlough, the government will return to paying 80% of wages for hours not worked up to a cap of £2,500, and employers will go back to paying National Insurance and pension contributions, as well as paying employees for hours worked in the normal way. This will be reviewed in January to decide whether economic circumstances are improving enough to ask employers to contribute more.

The amount contributed by the government for the extension into March is higher than what it was during the last months of the original furlough scheme. Employers had to start contributing from September if they wished to keep an employee on the scheme.

In September 2020, the government paid 70% up to £2,187.50, with employers paying the remaining 10% of the pre-tax salary up to £312.50. In October, the government started paying 60% up to £1,875, with employers paying the remaining 20% up to £625.

If you’re put on furlough and will struggle with your reduced salary, you may be eligible for support through Universal Credit.

How will I find out if I’m being furloughed?

If your company chooses to furlough you, they will confirm in writing the change in salary, the length of the furlough and any other relevant details - if you accept the offer, you will be required to keep this correspondence for five years.

Can I still be made redundant if I am on furlough?

After your agreed furlough leave is up, your employer can decide to make redundancies. The hope is that by using the furlough facility it will not be necessary to make people redundant.  However, if your company does decide to make you redundant, you will still have the same rights when it comes to notice periods and statutory redundancy rights.

Do I have to pay tax on furlough?

Yes – the HMRC grant will be paid to your company, who will then use this to pay 80% of your gross monthly salary up to £2,500 the same way they’d usually pay you. Any tax or other monthly deductions from your paycheck will still be taken out as normal.

Can I work while on furlough?

The government states that a furloughed employee cannot do anything that:

  • makes money for your business or any associated companies

  • provides services for your company or any connected businesses

  • puts you in breach of your contractual obligations inside your normal working hours as an employee of the company where you work.

Where can I get help?

If you are at risk of not meeting your financial commitments as a result of being furloughed, there are ways to help you manage your money; you can contact your credit provider directly to request an emergency payment freeze. The emergency payment freeze means you have agreed in advance to stop making repayments for an agreed length of time.

If you are approved for a freeze, the status of your account will be frozen at the point of the agreement. Your credit provider will then continue to report this repayment status to the CRA’s (credit reference agencies) for the duration of the payment freeze to minimise the impact on your credit score.

Other steps to consider during furlough leave could include rethinking your budgets. Our interactive budget planner can help you see where your money is going, and work out if there’s anything you can save on during this time.

By budgeting, you might be able to avoid a missed or late payment. But if your monthly income has been cut by being on furlough and you do think you’ll miss a payment, there are steps you could consider to help manage the impact, including contacting your lender upfront or asking for impartial debt advice from services such as StepChange.

This article was written on 8 March 2021; all information was correct at the time of writing.

For up-to-date information, regularly check gov.uk

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