HMRC has published updated guidance today for employers: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme
The most notable amendment is in relation to whether employees have to agree to be furloughed. The Direction issued last week strongly indicated that the employer and employee had to agree the employee’s cessation of work in writing. The new Guidance says employers must confirm in writing (and if this is done in a way that is consistent with employment law, that consent is valid for the purposes of claiming) but the employee does not have to provide a written response. So while the Guidance is not the law and is trumped by the Direction, commentary suggests that HMRC policy on the need for agreement will follow the Guidance. Time will tell whether further clarification is forthcoming.
Other changes include:
Payments may be withheld or need to be repaid in full to HMRC if the claim is based on dishonest or inaccurate information or found to be fraudulent.
HMRC has put in place an online portal for employees and the public to report suspected fraud in the Scheme.
Changes for those on fixed term contracts.
Those which ended, without extension or renewal, on or before the 19 March 2020, will not qualify for the grant once they have ended.
Where a fixed term contract ends because it is not extended or renewed before its natural conclusion, you will no longer be able to claim a grant for them once the contract ends.
There is no minimum period which must be left to run to enable it to be renewed or extended, but it must not have ended.
Confirmation that the minimum furlough period is three consecutive weeks, employees can be furloughed multiple times but each separate instance must be for a minimum period of three consecutive weeks.