A north-east MP has warned people are being left without income because of gaps in the UK Government’s furlough scheme.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme sees the Government pay 80% of the salary of those unable to work during the crisis.
Since it was introduced earlier this year, a number of changes have been made, including the date by which workers had to be employed to qualify for the programme.
And although it was recently extended until October, Gordon MP Richard Thomson has described it as “overly complex” and said there are a number of gaps.
The scheme is officially open to all those who were in employment on March 19 – but people who were in work on that date but weren’t registered with HMRC by their employer until afterwards are missing out on support.
Mr Thomson wants ministers to considering introducing a Universal Basic Income to ensure everyone who needs support gets it.
He said: “The furlough scheme is welcome but it’s still missing the mark for far too many people who need help right now.
“It is overly complex and still suffering from major gaps, such as excluding people who were in employment as of March 19 but not yet registered by their new employers with HMRC.
“Although the Chancellor is allowing people’s former employers to ‘re-hire’ them for the purposes of making a claim, for various reasons not every employer is willing to do that. It puts all the power in the hands of former employers, who can decide whether or not they wish to help people who have recently left their employment.
“Letting people who have a contractual start date of March 19 or earlier would solve that at a stroke, especially where there is a poor relationship with a former boss.
“There are other issues, such as the fact it misses out seasonal workers and small company directors who are paid through dividends. There’s also a looming problem for people on fixed term contracts which are coming to an end in the lockdown.
“A Universal Basic Income would have avoided this complexity precisely because it would have been paid to everyone who needed it. Instead, too far many people are still being denied support through no fault of their own because they fall through the many cracks in the scheme.
“These are problems which the UK Government is fully aware of, as they have been raised directly with Ministers by myself and colleagues many times.”
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Mr Thomson is supporting several people who have encountered difficulties with the furlough scheme.
Lauren Mackinlay, who was a Gordon constituent when lockdown began but has recently moved to Blackburn, handed in her notice with her previous employer a fortnight before measures were introduced.
She was furloughed – but only until the date her notice was due to run out, and she has since been forced to take up a job in a food shop.
She said: “I feel a lot of people have slipped through the cracks in the system and it seems pretty unfair.
“Not only the Government but my employer has let me down – stay home and save lives is the motto but I have no option. I had been headhunted and offered a new job with another company and, as everyone does, I was happy to progress and move on.
“My resignation letter was in two weeks before lockdown so when it happened I contacted HR and asked what would happen after April 24 – the day I was due to leave. They said I would be furloughed until then.
“What I can’t understand is how my resignation is acceptable if everything is shut down. How can it be effective? It has been so stressful and upsetting. After three years with them, I’m disappointed my work didn’t help me. I’m being punished for trying to better my career.
“I believe I should be supported by the furlough and job protection scheme regardless of having handed in my resignation. It’s ridiculous. If you’re a tax payer you should not fall through the system.”
Others have also been unable to access support as they work for companies which are registered overseas.
One man, who works a zero-hours contract as an ROV pilot technician, has been left without support due to his employer’s corporate structure.
He said: “I was shocked when my employer informed me that as the current scheme stood, I was not eligible as the company had employed me through their foreign office.
“I quickly found out it wasn’t just myself but a large majority of the offshore industry that would miss out on support due to their employment contracts.
“The gap in the scheme missing tax paying citizens has caused me a great deal of stress and anxiety due to the uncertainty of job security and knowing I would have no support from the government to cover even the basics such as my mortgage.”
Another said her husband, who works as a senior tooling technician on a day rate, was missing out because his employer is based in Singapore.
She said: “The gaps in the scheme have meant we can’t claim Universal Credit as we don’t know where he stands as you can’t claim if you’re still working. I feel miffed he doesn’t qualify as he’s fallen through the cracks.
“I don’t see what the difference is – if you pay PAYE you should be eligible for support and HMRC should be able to verify it, it could even be proved with a P60 or National Insurance.”
A spokesman for the Treasury said it had made more than £11 million of furlough payments so far.
He added: “We’ve announced an unprecedented package of measures to support the jobs and incomes during the outbreak, including our job retention scheme which has so far supported 8 million jobs.
“As the OBR have outlined, the actions we’ve taken will help to mitigate the impact of the virus on our economy and without our package of measures things would be worse.
“A flat rate universal income would not take into account people’s circumstances and the additional needs and costs faced by some individuals. Therefore, it would not target support where it is most needed.”