Those who have changed jobs since the outbreak of coronavirus are facing extreme difficulty in accessing furlough payments.
Initially, the government stated that individuals can only be furloughed if they had been placed on their new employer’s payroll or had been made redundant by their previous employer before 28th February.
As a way of “fixing” the problem, the government initially said that previous employers could rehire their old staff and put them onto furlough.
However, we undertook a poll in the New Starter Furlough Facebook group (of nearly 8,000 members), and found that in 94% of cases, previous employers were unwilling or unable to help.
The old employers cited concerns over sick pay, annual leave, and cash flow – indeed the company may already be paying a new member of staff who replaced the last. This has ultimately left old staff in the lurch.
In my case, I cannot simply appeal to a previous employer. I took some time off in February to renovate my house, during which time I spent all of my savings and ran up some considerable debts, which I was returning to work to pay off.
I started my new job in TV production on the 2nd March (three weeks before the government announced the job retention scheme). My company would love to furlough me but instead had to end my contract. They wanted to retain staff, so they can get going faster after the lockdown (which is the idea of the scheme – to benefit the economy). But now I am left without a job.
The government’s latest attempt to fix this situation, made on 15th April, says that the cut-off date for furlough has now been extended to people who were on a company’s payroll on or before 19th March.
However, if you read the small print, this update offers little to help the majority of those who had already been forgotten by the government.
The small print advises that your new employer must have submitted your RTI (Real Time Information) payroll details to HMRC on or before the 19th March.
Many employers only submit this information to HMRC a few days before payroll is due. And since most companies pay after the 19th of each month, thousands of people are still being left without government support, simply due to a technicality.
In effect, the Chancellor has unveiled a minor change that may help hundreds of people but again leaves thousands not qualifying. It is a PR stunt, not a solution to the horrendous problems new starters like me are facing.
And Universal Credit support is neither practical nor viable, either. For those of us who are eligible for Universal Credit payments, we are facing a significant drop in our incomes. And for those that aren’t, we are left to survive on half of the usual household income.
This group, myself included, are facing all the stresses that the general public is facing in the midst of this pandemic. However, included within our anxieties are questions like: how can we financially survive this period? Will we have to prioritise food or bills? Even though I have an underlying health condition, will I have to go to work and risk my life?
And on top of this, we have the added stress of being told by the government that we are collateral damage – that our livelihoods are not worth saving.
Being abandoned like this is triggering new and existing mental health issues. Suicide is a word you come across every day when you engage with new starters who’ve been left without income. In many cases it’s only the support of others, in a similar position to ourselves, that is keeping us going.
The good news for thousands of people is there is a solution, and the government is already using it – they just need to allow new starters to take advantage, too.
TUPE employees, whose work is officially “transferred” from one company to another, were not originally included in Rishi Sunak’s job retention scheme. However, an amendment on the 10th April was made, stating that a new employer is eligible to claim under the job retention scheme, “in respect of the employees of a previous business transferred after 19 March 2020” and they just need to provide further evidence to confirm the case with HMRC.
The government needs to recognise our poverty is avoidable and include us in the scheme, as they have done with TUPE employees. We are ready with evidence to prove our status.
The Chancellor can help us to avoid financial misery and potential destitution, if he acts. And we need him to act, urgently.