Money Matters

Flexible furlough: What it means for your payroll processes

Flexible furlough is part of the new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme rules. Learn what this means if you run a payroll.

Editor’s note: We’ve created an article on the government’s Winter Economy Plan, which features information on new support measures. Read it for the latest details on coronavirus support.

Businesses that have been claiming for furloughed staff using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme gained an additional option as of 1 July 2020.

While continuing to claim for continuously furloughed employees remains possible, phase two of the CJRS – now in operation until the end of the scheme in October 2020 – introduces new flexible furlough rules.

This provides flexibility for the business to resume normal operations, by bringing staff back to the business at a pace that suits them.

This article covers the following topics:

What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?

How the flexible furlough works

Employee eligibility for flexible furlough

Wages and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme contributions

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme claim periods

Claim periods across month boundaries

Employment contracts and notifications

Gathering information for the flexible furlough process

Calculating holiday pay

Conclusion on the flexible furlough

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is financial assistance from the UK government for anybody or any business running a payroll, to cover coronavirus disruption.

It allows businesses to give employees a temporary leave of absence while still paying them a proportion of their salary, which is funded by the government (and the business itself, as of August 2020).

The CJRS began in April 2020, initially covering March 2020’s payroll. After several updates, it’s scheduled to end with October 2020’s payroll.

There are essentially two phases.

The first phase, which ended in June 2020, allowed businesses to furlough employees for long periods (minimum three weeks), while claiming 80% of their salary (capped at £2,500).

The second phase as of 1 July 2020 introduced flexible furloughing. It also requires businesses to contribute a small proportion to the government’s furlough payment as of August 2020.

In the first phase, and for July 2020 during phase two, claims can be made for employer National Insurance contributions (NICs) as well as the minimum statutory pension payments for the employee (assuming they were already paying this prior to the start of the CJRS).

From August 2020, the amount that can be claimed is as follows:

  • August 2020 payroll: You can continue to claim up to 80% of a furloughed worker’s salary (flexible or otherwise). However, from August 2020 onwards, and until the termination of the CJRS in October 2020, you are required to contribute any employer National Insurance contributions (ER NICs), and mandatory (statutory) pension contributions for the employee.
  • September 2020 payroll: You can claim for 70% of wages, up to a maximum claim of £2,187.50 per employee. You must contribute the 10% shortfall yourself to bring the wage up to 80% – and remember that you cannot pay an employee less than 80% of their usual wage (or 80% of £3,125 if they normally earn more) if you use the CJRS. As with the August 2020 payroll, you also pay ER NICs and pension contributions.
  • October 2020 payroll: You can claim for 60% of wages, up to a maximum claim of £1,875 per employee. You must contribute the outstanding 20% yourself, to bring the wage for the furloughed worker up to the mandated 80%. Once again, you’re also required to pay ER NICs and pension contributions. October’s CJRS claim must be made by the end of November 2020.

Flexible furlough rules mean you can now reintroduce staff to your business on a part time or shift-pattern basis, while claiming under the CJRS for the time when they’re not working but would normally do so according to their employment contract.

For example, an employee who ordinarily works from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, could work two days out of the week, and spend the remaining three days on flexible furlough.

Or they could work whatever days the business requires, decided on a day-to-day basis (assuming the employee is amenable to this and it’s specified in an agreement).

The proportion of the salary for the time spent working is paid by the business, pro-rata based on the employee’s reference salary.

The worker is paid by the business 80% of their reference salary pro-rata for the three days they’re not present (capped at £2,500), and a claim is then made under the CJRS for these three days.

Note that you can continue to furlough some or indeed all employees full time under the flexible furlough rules, if you decide that’s best for your business.

You can mix both full time and flexibly furloughed employees within the business, and move an employee in and out of flexible or longer-term furloughing to meet your business needs.

When it comes to the selection of employees that you can claim for, the following rules now apply for both flexible and full-time furlough CJRS claims:

  1. You can only claim for somebody who was furloughed for at least three weeks and was included in a claim before 1 July 2020. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule: employees returning from statutory leave (e.g. long-term parental leave), and military reservists. There might be more exceptions as and when other types of individuals are identified.
  2. Any single claim cannot be for more people than the largest single claim, measured by individuals, made prior to 1 July 2020.

In other words, while you may have furloughed 100 employees at various times prior to 1 July 2020, but only ever made a claim for 50 at most in a single CJRS claim, you can only make a CJRS claim for no more than 50 employees now.

This means some businesses that compartmentalised employees into furlough teams, so that some worked while others remained furloughed (and vice versa), will no longer be able to operate such a system without adjustment (e.g. shrinking the size of the furlough teams).

For furloughed employees, you continue to pay their salary, as you did until 1 July 2020 under the CJRS requirements.

With flexible furloughing, you again pay the employee’s salary, but it comprises two components.

You fund the employee’s salary for the hours or days they work for you, part-time or shift-based. This is calculated pro-rata based on their reference salary.

You can claim back under the CJRS all or part the wage paid for the flexible furlough period – the time when the employee is not working for you, but would normally do so according to their employment contract.

This is calculated pro-rata but otherwise in the same way under CJRS rules as it was before flexible furloughing (taking into account the diminishing amounts provided by the government as of August 2020).

However, the effective outcome is that flexible furlough employees are now on simultaneously on two salary tiers: 100% of salary pro-rata when they work for you, and 80% of salary pro-rata for the hours or days when they are flexibly furloughed, capped at £2,500 (assuming that you are not topping up the furloughed wage, as some businesses have chosen to do).

It’s a good idea to create a ‘Furlough’ pay element within your payroll software, and process the normal pay as usual, then enter the amount of furlough pay in the new pay element. This will also make it easier to analyse at a later date.

Claims from now on under the CJRS have a handful of differences compared with those made before 1 July 2020.

  • A claim must be made only for the calendar month it’s within, and cannot include days outside that month. This means that if a claim falls across two calendar months, two separate claims must be made, and claims must be made this way regardless of whether your payroll or pay period runs beyond the end or the start of a month.
  • A claim period must be a minimum of seven days. The only exception is if the month simply doesn’t have seven days left – if the claim period is for the last few days in a month, in other words. But to make a claim like this, you must have claimed for the period ending immediately before it.
  • Any claim must not overlap with any other.
  • Flexible and longer-term furloughing claims must be combined together because you cannot make more than one claim for a particular period. It doesn’t matter if you pay employees at different times.

While it’s possible to claim up to 14 days before a claim period, flexible furloughing could mean employees work unpredictable hours.

For example, the plan may be for an employee to work three days in a week, but a manager may decide there’s enough work for four days. Because of this, HMRC says you shouldn’t claim until you’re certain of the number of hours that have been claimed as furloughed.

Clearly, planning and coordination are required to claim in an effective and timely way, and there needs to be consideration about what minimum length of claim period works best for your business.

If an invalid claim is made under the CJRS, it must be promptly repaid to the government, or an adjustment made to a future claim via a declaration while making that claim.

As mentioned earlier, claim periods cannot cross monthly boundaries, and claim periods normally cannot be for less than seven days.

Furlough claim periods must now start on the earliest date within the period that any employee is furloughed, which is to say the furlough claim period cannot start before any employee furlough start dates. However, it can extend past the date when employees return to work.

The exception is if you are creating a CJRS claim and will be flexibility furloughing them for at least seven days but the first day of this flexible furlough claim is less than seven days before the end of the month, or the last employee being claimed for returned to work before the seventh day of the month.

In addition, you did not have a separate CJRS claim that finished the day before this period.

In the above situation, the CJRS claim will be less than seven days because it starts on the date that the flexibly furloughed employee started furlough and must finish at the end of the month, or ends on the date that the flexibly furloughed employee returned to work but cannot start earlier than the first day of the month.

Here’s an example with for a business with only one employee who is furloughed in July and August.

The employee will only be flexibly furloughed for the last three days of July (and the first four days of August), then in July the furlough claim period will start on 29 July and only be three days.

The furlough claim in August will start on 1 August and end on 4 August (assuming they returned to work on 5 August and only did their usual hours for the rest of the pay period).

Even if you’ve already given written notice to your employee about furloughing, you’ll need to get an agreement and provide written notice for the part time or shift-work pattern you’re claiming under CJRS.

You might need to do this more than once if you change the flexible furlough arrangement.

You may need to adjust their employment contract if it does not already allow for part time or shift working. This might involve consulting with a trade union, or with your workforce. You should factor in time for this to take place before implementing flexible furloughing.

To use the flexible furlough process, you’ll need to collate the information you previously did for phase one of CJRS, which was the period up until 1 July 2020 when flexible furloughing was introduced, as well as additional information.

With flexible furlough, more information is required. What HMRC refers to as the usual hours and usual wage should be worked out and recorded, because these will be used to work out that proportion of the employee’s salary that is funded by your business, and what proportion is covered by the CJRS.

Usual hours can vary depending on pay periods, and whether the individual is contracted to work a fixed number of hours, or variable hours. It can be further complicated by sick leave or statutory pay.

To this end, HMRC provides a series of detailed examples that should be referred to when working out your own CJRS claim periods.

You’ll need a way to log the actual hours employees work, and can’t assume they have worked or been furloughed for a schedule that was agreed previously.

This could involve a timesheet system, ideally online, and this may be confusing or unexpected for employees otherwise used to working full-time hours. Therefore, resources should be set aside for an explanation.

As with existing CJRS rules, you will need to keep documentation relating to any furlough calculations – including flexible furlough – for five years (that is, up until November 2025 if you furlough employees until the end of the scheme). This includes the actual hours and wage discussed above.

When calculating working and furloughed time for flexible furlough, employers can include time that employees are on holiday (and receiving their full contractual salary) as furlough time.

But only if this is adjacent to a period when employees are flexibly furloughed, and receiving salary that as a minimum is 80% of their unusual earnings up to a cap of £2,500 and with any optional employer top-up.

HMRC offers more detailed guidance about calculating holiday pay.

The devil is truly in the details with phase two of the CJRS that began on 1 July 2020.

With flexible furloughing the potential for accidentally making an invalid CJRS claim is much higher, and there’s a similar risk of paying employees for time when they weren’t present, which could cause bad will if you need to claim that back subsequently.

Key to a successful implementation of flexible furloughing is not just thorough planning but ensuring there’s always clear communication between employees, their managers, and the payroll department.

This should be in place before implementing any kind of part time or shift working.

Additionally, everybody within the business should be educated about the requirements of flexible furloughing – from employees up to managers.

Managing uncertainty

Get some top tips to help you create business continuity plans that will keep your company moving during uncertain times.

Download your free guide