Business advice - common questions
With the outbreak of coronavirus, or Covid-19, and subsequent partial closures for schools and childcare providers we know the early years sector is understandably extremely worried about the impact of this on their families and future sustainability.
We know there are many more questions about how childminders, nurseries and pre-schools will be supported through this outbreak and the practicalities of 'partial closures' and we're continuing to raise these to government.
These meetings will continue on a regular basis so we will have the opportunity to raise the questions we receive from our members and the wider sector to try and get clarity on the key issues facing you over the next few months.
On May 29 Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced changes to the current Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. The changes have been incorporated into the Q and A below or you can read a summary of them here.
Further guidance on flexible furloughing and how employers should calculate claims will be published on 12 June.
What business support is available for childcare providers during this period of disruption?
- Business rates relief
The Chancellor has announced that private childcare settings will be eligible for a business rates holiday for one year. That means non-local authority providers of childcare (registered with Ofsted and providing EYFS) will pay no business rates in 2020 to 2021.
Nurseries in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief will benefit from small business grant funding of £10,000. This includes nurseries who are eligible for a charitable status relief – who will also pay no business rates at all in 2020 to 2021.
Some settings operate from shared spaces which may now benefit from a 100% rates relief. The government strongly encourages those shared spaces to reflect any business rates saving in their rent charges.
- The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme means that for employees who are not working but kept on payroll (furloughed), the government will contribute 80% of each worker’s wages of up to £2,500, backdated to 1 March 2020. We have much more detail on this scheme in the Q and A section below.
- Self-employment Income Support Scheme
The Self-employment Income Support Scheme for those who are self-employed or members of a partnership and have lost income due to coronavirus (COVID-19). The scheme allows individuals to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for 3 months. HMRC will contact individuals who are eligible and invite them to apply online.
For the self-employed (including childminders), the minimum income floor will also be temporarily relaxed, meaning Universal Credit can be accessed at a rate to match statutory sick pay (SSP).
Applications for a second, and final, grant for the self-employed will open in August. The grant will be paid out in a single instalment covering three months' worth of average monthly profits at 70%, up to a total of £6,750.
- Small Business Grant and Discretionary Grants Scheme
The Government announced there would be support for small businesses in the form of the Small Business Grant Fund. The scheme will be delivered by Local Authorities – if you are eligible, your Local Authority will be in touch with you to arrange payment.
Small and micro businesses with fixed property costs that are not eligible for the Small Business Grant Fund may be eligible for the Discretionary Grants Scheme - a grant of £25,000, £10,000 or any amount under £10,000.
You’re potentially eligible if your business:
— is based in England
— has fewer than 50 employees
— has fixed building costs such as rent
— was trading on 11 March 2020
— has been adversely impacted by the coronavirus
Local authorities are being asked to prioritise a range of small businesses for the grant including those in shared offices or other flexible workspaces, and charity properties getting charitable business rates relief, which are not eligible for small business rates relief or rural rate relief.
- Other support
- The Business Interruption Loan Scheme will now be interest-free for 12 months, an increase from six months.
- VAT payments due with VAT returns between now and the end June 2020 will be deferred. UK VAT registered businesses will not need make those payments until March 2021.
- The business secretary announced on 28 March 2020 that he will make changes to enable UK companies undergoing a rescue or restructure process to continue trading to help them avoid insolvency. This includes temporarily suspending wrongful trading provisions retrospectively from 1 March 2020 for 3 months for company directors so they can keep their business going without the threat of personal liability.
- Working tax credit has been increased by £1,000 a year.
- The government has also announced a £20 per week increase to the Universal Credit standard allowance and Working Tax Credit basic element and an increase in the Local Housing Allowance rates for Universal Credit and Housing Benefit claimants so that it covers the cheapest third of local rents.
Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, Furlough Leave and Related Employment Matters
- What is the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme?
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is a scheme where employers can apply for a grant to cover 80% of usual monthly salary costs of furloughed employees. Furloughed employees are employees who are still employed but are not currently working.
The grant, which does not need to be repaid, will be a maximum of £2,500 a month per employee, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that salary. Fees, commissions and bonuses are not included.
Settings can apply for grant to cover wages as of 1 March 2020. Each grant amount will be based on the employee’s actual salary before tax as of 28 February.
- Why has the scheme been introduced?
The scheme is designed to minimise the need for redundancies (because of provision closures or a downturn in business) during the coronavirus outbreak. It introduces a new concept of employees being furloughed and kept on the payroll.
- If a staff member’s wage varies from month to month, how will the scheme work?
If an employee has worked at a setting for at least 12 months before a claim is made, but their pay varies, employers can claim for a grant based on whichever is the higher of: the same month's earning from the previous year (e.g. earnings from March 2019); or average monthly earnings in the 2019-20 tax year.
If the employee has been employed for less than a year, the employer can claim for an average of their monthly earnings since they started work.
- How long will the scheme run?
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has confirmed the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be available until the end of October 2020.
The government will continue to pay 80% of employee wages, including national insurance and employer pensions contributions in July. Employers will be able to bring employees back to work for any number of times and for any shift pattern ('Flexible furlough'). For example, an employee could be brought back for two days a week, with the furlough scheme covering the other three.
To introduce this scheme, the government is closing the old Job Retention Scheme to new entrants on 30 June. Employers wanting to place new employees onto the scheme will need to do so by 10 June.
The government will continue to pay 80% of employee wages, but employers will be required to start paying national insurance and employer pensions contributions.
The government will pay 70% of employee wages, with employers required to pay a further 10%.
The government will pay 60% of employee wages, with employers required to pay a further 20%.
After October, the Job Retention scheme will close.
- Which employers is the scheme open to?
The scheme is open to all UK employers (small or large, charitable or private) that had created and started a PAYE payroll scheme on 28 February 2020.
- What’s the minimum period that a staff member can be placed on furlough leave?
The minimum period is three weeks.
- Which employees are eligible?
Employees on the PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020 and which were notified to HMRC on an RTI submission (real-time information submission) on or before 19 March 2020.
The employee can be on any type of contract, including: full-time employees part-time employees employees on agency contracts employees on flexible or zero-hour contracts.
To be eligible for the subsidy, an employee cannot undertake work for or on behalf of their setting while on furlough leave. This includes providing services or generating revenue.
If you made employees redundant, or they stopped working for you on or after 28 February 2020, you can re-employ them, put them on furlough and claim for their wages through the scheme. This applies to employees that were made redundant or stopped working for you after 28 February, even if you do not re-employ them until after 19 March. This applies as long as the employee was on your payroll as at 28 February.
- Can early years staff on reduced hours benefit from the scheme?
Staff on reduced hours or reduced pay will not be entitled to furlough leave under the government’s scheme. This means that as childcare providers who have less children to care for may be advised to reduce the number of employees, rather than their hours.
- What if members of staff are self-isolating or are sick?
Furlough leave doesn’t apply where staff are self-isolating or are sick. In these circumstances, employees should receive Statutory Sick Pay, but can be furloughed after this.
- What about staff shielding in line with public health guidance?
Employees who are shielding in line with public health guidance can be placed on furlough. Shielding is required for people, including children, who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) accessing the provision. It’s also for their family, friends and carers.
- What about staff on unpaid leave?
Employees on unpaid leave cannot be placed on furlough leave. However, it is not currently clear how this guidance applies to employees who have returned from unpaid leave after 28 February. The Alliance is seeking further clarification on this point.
- What about a change in ownership and employees who have transferred under TUPE?
A new employer is eligible to claim under the Scheme in respect of the employees of a previous business transferred after 28th February 2020 if either the TUPE or PAYE business succession rules apply to the change in ownership.
Read more guidance on TUPE rules.
Read more guidance on business succession.
- Will employees continue to accrue service and annual leave?
Employees will remain on the payroll and therefore continue to accrue continuous service and their annual leave. Settings are obligated to ensure that staff are entitled to the statutory annual leave entitlement of 5.6 weeks. Where enhanced annual leave is provided any variation will normally need to be agreed. Settings should review their contracts and Alliance members can obtain legal advice from the free member legal advice service Law-Call.
- What if an employee has more than one job?
Both employers will be able to make a claim under the scheme. The 80% cap applies to each employer.
- If an employer stops employees working now, will they be able to claim salary payments for the whole of March?
No, the furlough leave will not cover any time that the employee was actually working.
- Can an employee work while on furlough leave?
A staff member of furlough leave can take part in volunteer work or training, as long as it does not provide services to or generate revenue for, or on behalf of, the setting. However, if employees are required to, for example, complete online training courses whilst they are on furlough leave, then they must be paid at least the National Living Wage or National Minimum Wage for the time spent training, even if this is more than the 80% of their wage that will be subsidised.
- If staff have already been put on short-term hours working, can this now be converted this to furlough leave?
If employees have already put staff on short-time working on reduced pay, then employers should be able to vary this arrangement so that staff can benefit from the 80% payment.
A short term contract must be for a fixed duration and will come to an end once the end date is reached or, if the contract is for a specific task, when the task is complete. Specific advice should be sought from a legal advisor or helpline. Alliance members can contact Law-Call, the 24-hour legal helpline.
- What information will settings need to make a claim?
To claim, employers will need:
their ePAYE reference number
the number of employees being furloughed
the claim period (start and end date)
amount claimed (per the minimum length of furloughing of three weeks)
their bank account number and sort code
their contact name
their phone number.
HMRC has stated that it will retain the right to retrospectively audit all aspects of the claim.
Can a setting make more than one claim?
Employers can only submit one claim every three weeks.
- When will the HMRC online claims portal be open?
The new online claims system is expected to be ready by the end of April 2020.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and ‘free entitlement funding’
On 17 April, the Department for Education published new guidance that revealed there are limitations on how early years providers in receipt of 'free entitlement' funding can access the Job Retention Scheme — despite previous guidance stating that providers could access both schemes.
The guidance - Coronavirus (COVID-19): financial support for education, early years and children’s social care - states that private early years providers should only furlough employees through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme if the following conditions are met:
- the employee works in an area of business where services are temporarily not required and where their salary is not covered by public funding
- the employee would otherwise be made redundant or laid off
- the employee is not involved in delivering provision that has already been funded (free entitlement funding)
- (where appropriate) the employee is not required to deliver provision for a child of a critical worker and/or vulnerable child
- the grant from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme would not duplicate other public grants received, and would not lead to financial reserves being created.
It adds that where it is not clear if a staff is funded through 'free entitlement' funding or private income then "an early years provider can access the Job Retention Scheme to cover up to the proportion of its paybill which could be considered to have been paid for from that provider’s private income".
For example, if a provider receives 40% of its income from government funding, and 60% from other income, the provider can only claim Job Retention Scheme support for up to 60% of their paybill. The guidances states that "this would be done by furloughing staff whose usual salary / combined salaries come to no greater than 60% of the provider’s total paybill". This calculation would be based on the setting's February 2020 income.
Important update: We understand that there is still a lot of confusion over how the guidance released will work in practice, and are aware that some people have interpreted it as simple a cap to ensure that providers cannot profit from the two schemes. It is the Alliance's view that this would be a reasonable approach from the government - though still very detrimental to providers who have made plans based on the general understanding of the previous guidance. However, it is our understanding that this is not how the new guidance will work in practice.
The guidance states:
"If a provider’s average monthly income is 40% from DSG and 60% from other income, the provider could claim CJRS support for up to 60% of their paybill.
"This would be done by furloughing staff whose usual salary / combined salaries come to no greater than 60% of the provider’s total paybill."
This means that, for instance, if a provider in this example had a monthly wage bill of £10,000, they would only be able to claim Job Retention Scheme support for up to £6000 worth of wages, meaning the maximum support they could receive from government would be £4800 (80% of £6000). We are currently developing resources as a matter of urgency to make how this guidance will work in practice as clear as possible to providers. Please continue to check here for further clarification on the latest guidance.
- The Alliance has produced a summary of the Early entitlement funding and the Job Retention Scheme guidance to clarify the general principles of how the guidance works, as we know there have been a number of different interpretations. You can download it here.
- We also have an FAQs specifically on the Job Retention Scheme and Early Entitlement Funding.
Implementing furlough leave
- How should I select which staff to place on Furlough Leave and which staff to continue working?
You must be careful not to discriminate when deciding who you will offer Furlough Leave to. The Equality Act and the duty to consider the health and safety of individuals will still apply. You should consider the following key points when taking the decision:
the business needs of the organisation (i.e. which roles are critical)
if staff roles are identical you could ask for volunteers
rotate Furlough Leave amongst employees complying with the minimum three week period (subject to clarification)
health or other relevant circumstances of individuals (place those at risk on Furlough Leave first)
ensure that sufficient staff are in place to carry on operating.
This is not an exhaustive list.
You should record the reason for your decision and clearly communicate this to staff in an open and transparent manner.
- What process do I need to go through to Furlough staff on 80% of their salaries?
You should make sure any process followed is fair and involves consultation with each employee affected. Furlough Leave should not be unilaterally imposed without written consent. In seeking to agree a temporary variation to the contract to place an employee on Furlough Leave, consideration must be given to the following practical steps:
- check the employment contracts for staff (including short term layoff clauses, consultation requirements and notice periods for changes)
- discuss the business case for the change with the employee
- where there is no provision in the contract to reduce pay, you are required to obtain written consent; (you may be able to impose a reduction in pay in line with the relevant clause within the contract of employment – however, you will still need to deal with the matter appropriately, proportionately and sensitively
- you must ensure that the employee's consent was not obtained by duress and that your communications are propionate and reasonable
- where a trade union is recognised for collective bargaining purposes, the trade union should be consulted
- place staff on Furlough Leave from an agreed date if you do not have enough work for them or are closing the setting
- confirm and obtain agreement in writing with affected staff
- inform staff that you will keep them updated.
Employment law requirements including consultation obligations and timescales will apply. However, this will be a challenge given the pandemic. Consequently, you should take legal guidance. Alliance members can obtain support from the free legal helpline Law-Call in our member area.
In these extreme circumstances, employees (and any trade unions) may agree to a period of Furlough Leave because the alternative is likely to be redundancies. Where there is no provision in the contract to reduce pay, and the setting is unable to obtain agreement from the employees, then you should obtain legal guidance.
- Do we have to top up the pay of a worker on Furlough Leave to 100%?
The guidance makes it clear that this is the employer’s choice and is not compulsory. The decision may depend on the financial circumstances of the setting or organisation as a whole. However, there will need to be a clause in the contract to allow for a reduction of pay in these circumstances. Otherwise written agreement will be required from the employees. Specific legal advice should be sought, if settings intend to apply this top up to only certain groups of staff as this could lead to direct or indirect discrimination.
We cannot afford to top up our staff pay to 100% during Furlough Leave, what other support is available?
Employees, whose income has fallen, may be eligible for other government support such as universal credit, or housing benefit. They may also be eligible for a three-month mortgage holiday.
- What process do I need to go through to Furlough staff on 100% of their salaries?
It is unlikely to be a breach of contract to place an employee on Furlough Leave (without their agreement) provided you pay them their full pay, and deal with the matter appropriately, proportionately and sensitively.
This will include:
- discussing the business case with your employees
- placing staff on Furlough Leave from an agreed date if you do not have enough work for them or are closing the setting
- confirming in writing
- informing staff that you will keep them updated.
- Will an employee be entitled to their contractual benefits and to accrue annual leave during Furlough Leave?
Employees will be entitled to continue to receive all of the non-discretionary benefits of their contract, including the right to accrue annual leave, unless they expressly agree to waive these. Statutory holiday, 5.6 weeks per annum and minimum auto enrolment pension contributions cannot be waived and must therefore continue. Where you are seeking to agree to vary any terms and conditions during Furlough Leave you should obtain legal advice.
- What decisions will the setting need to make if there is an ongoing financial impact of the pandemic?
Settings will need to decide whether to continue operating or to close. This will be a decision for settings based on their individual business and financial circumstances. Whatever course of action is chosen, employment law requirements must be followed.
- I issued staff with notice of redundancy last week, can I re-employ then and place them on Furlough Leave?
Anybody who was on the payroll on 28 February 2020 and has since been made redundant can be rehired and put on the scheme with their agreement. Members should take legal advice from the free legal advice service, Law-Call, to ensure that they follow an appropriate process that will enable them to claim from the scheme.
- Does Furlough leave apply to Casual Workers?
Technically no. However, you will need to consider the work pattern of individuals to understand whether they are truly casual workers. Further clarification should be sought from your legal advice service.
- Can staff be furloughed multiple times?
Employers can place staff on furlough more than once – and one period can follow straight after an existing one. The minimum length of a furlough period is three weeks.
Employers will be able to bring employees back to work for any number of times and for any shift pattern ('Flexible furlough'). For example, an employee could be brought back for two days a week, with the furlough scheme covering the other three.
To introduce this scheme, the government is closing the old Job Retention Scheme to new entrants on 30 June. Employers wanting to place new employees onto the scheme will need to do so by 10 June.
- Can I ask furloughed staff to complete tasks remotely?
You cannot ask staff to do work for your setting once they have been furloughed. Staff can volunteer to do some tasks for your setting – but they cannot do anything that creates revenue or provides a service.
This means that staff may be able to volunteer to complete essential training courses remotely or stay in touch with families by posting information on Facebook, for example.
However, they cannot be asked to complete tasks such as providing lesson plans to parents or remotely offering services such as story time via Skype.
The intention is that staff will no longer be doing their job while on furlough.
If they are required to do any training courses or other services, they will need to be paid the National Living or National Minimum Wage for any time spent on this – even if this means that they are paid a higher rate than they would be through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
You can keep up to date with any updates from Ofsted here.
- What should I do if my setting is due to have an Ofsted inspection during the outbreak?
Ofsted has temporarily suspended all routine inspections due to the outbreak. You should not have to take part in any routine inspections during this time, unless there has been a safeguarding concern raised.
- If we are struggling with staff absences can we relax staff ratios?
Ofsted has advised the Alliance that the EYFS section 3:30 allows for the relaxation of ratios in exceptional circumstances, and where the quality of care and safety and security of children is maintained, changes to the ratios may be made. As the coronavirus outbreak is an exceptional circumstance, there is no need to notify Ofsted to minor changes to ratios. However, no official guidance is yet available on this. We are in contact with Ofsted and will provide an update to the sector as soon as formal guidance becomes available.
- What should we be communicating with Ofsted?
On its website Ofsted says: 'At this time, you do not need to let us know if you are closed due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), whether that’s because you are not caring for the children of critical workers or vulnerable children, or because you are ill.'
- Will Ofsted publish the report of my recent inspection?
Ofsted had said that they would publish those reports only when providers reopen as normal for all children. However they are now writing to all providers with reports in the pipeline to ask whether they would like their report published as soon as possible. If they say yes, Ofsted will publish their report shortly.
- Can I delay payment of my Ofsted fees?
Ofsted invoices for annual fees issued from 3 April 2020 will now have a due date of 30 September 2020, so that you have freedom to delay your payment during this time. Your annual fee date will not change.
If parents' income changes due to the impact of Covid-19, are they still eligible for the 30 hours entitlement?
Parents who are normally eligible for the government’s childcare offers will continue receiving the entitlements during the summer term if their income levels fall due to the impact of coronavirus.
The Government has announced that any working parent usually eligible for 30 hours free childcare or Tax-Free Childcare will remain eligible if they fall below the minimum income requirement due to COVID-19. Subject to Parliamentary approval, parents who are critical workers will also remain eligible for these entitlements if their income has increased over the maximum threshold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
My Paediatric First Aid Certificates will expire within the next three months. What should I do?
The Health and Safety Executive has announced a three-month extension to the validity of all certificates coming up for renewal on or after March 16 during the current Covid-19 crisis. You can see the full statement here.
Can I delay paying my fees to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)?
If your renewal date is coming up and you are unable to pay your fees please get in touch with their registration department as soon as possible, so that they can make a note against their registration and see if they are able to stop the payment being taken, if you pay by direct debit. Once the current situation is over, the ICO will contact you to seek payment and it will be back-paid to your original renewal date.
Because of fluctuating food supplies we are struggling to manage our menus. What should we do?
With the growing risk of coronavirus, many providers now need to find ways to adapt their menus to cope with fluctuating food supplies.
It’s important to note that there is enough food coming into UK retail system. In such an extraordinary situation, it has been necessary for some retailers to limit sales to ensure that food can be bought by larger numbers. Some vulnerable families may be struggling to access the foods they need at home so it’s particularly important at the moment to help ensure food security for all. The Alliance has written to the heads of all the major supermarkets in the UK to ask for the development of a scheme which ensures that childcare providers are able to access the food and other key items they need.
Our FAQs are not an exhaustive list of points for consideration. This is a new and fast-changing situation for providers and the wider sector. For this reason, you should seek legal advice (Alliance members can access free legal advice as part of their membership, contact details are available in the members’ area).
We are also seeking further clarification from the DfE on a number of areas to ensure we are completely clear about implications for employers and employees. We will continually update these FAQs on our website as new information or further guidance is made available.
While many employers will be pragmatic, we know that they will work hard to protect the interests of their employees.
Any employer should be aware that if they fail to follow employment law requirements, their actions could potentially result in employment claims.
Guidance for Alliance members
Alliance members have free access to Furlough Leave template letters in the Members’ Area.
Government financial support
Government guidance — operational
Coronavirus (Covid-19) guidance for the charity sector
Guidance to help with running your charity during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
Early years and childcare closures
This guidance covers Ofsted-registered childcare providers for children of all ages, including childminders, nurseries and wraparound childcare and clubs (before- and after- school and holiday care). This guidance does not cover nannies or au pairs, as they work in the child/children’s family home.
Latest update: On 15 May 2020, the government provided a further update to previous guidance which includes;
- updated links to new and revised guidance
- a new section clarifying the position on welcoming all children back to early years settings from 1 June
- clarification on the responsibilities for settings and local authorities in relation to safeguarding (section 3)
- information regarding testing for essential workers (section 6.4)
- link to guidance on free early education entitlements added (section 5.1)
- information for parents on temporary changes to the 30 hours free early education entitlements (section 5.2)
- revised recommendations on the use of Personal Protective Equipment (section 6.2)
- further information on safeguarding requirements during this period (section 7.8)
- information on when can childminders can reopen to more children (section 10.5)
Implementing Social Distancing in Education and Childcare Settings
This guidance is for education and childcare settings that are remaining open to support vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. It should be read in conjunction with guidance for social distancing.
Useful template letters and resources