With COVID-19 still causing major disruption to UK businesses, it is now estimated that 44% of British firms plan to furlough at least half of their workforce, while a third (32%) planning to temporarily lay off up to three-quarters of their staff on payroll.
With estimates like these, approximately 1 in 4 British workers can expect to be furloughed during the Coronavirus pandemic, a figure that could still rise if the economy does not reopen.
What exactly does being placed on furlough mean?
Receiving notification that you are to be placed on furlough can be extremely scary, causing a significant drop in wages and crumbling any sense of job security. Despite government efforts to make furlough. and the rules that surround it, simple for businesses and their employees, many people remain unsure about the finer points of the scheme adding to their worries.
So how does furlough work?
Furlough has actually been around since long before COVID-19, however, the big difference now is that as a part of the Governments Jobs Retention Scheme, employees could be eligible to have a part of their salary paid by the government (up to 80%), providing their employers with some financial relief if they are suffering during the pandemic. If they choose to do so and have the finances available, then some employers may choose to top up the 80% furlough salary of their employees, however, this is not mandatory.
As an employee you don’t need to do anything, your employer will apply for the scheme on your behalf, paying you your furlough payment in the same way that they have paid you your wages up until now.
Who is eligible for furlough payments?
When the Government Jobs Retention Scheme was first announced, furlough payments were only going to be made available to those who had joined payroll by 28th February 2020. However, very quickly, it was realized that this date left thousands of new workers uncovered by the scheme and the date has now been moved to March 19th 2020. So as long as you started your job or were put on the payroll, on or before, March 19h 2020 then you will be eligible for furlough payments.
It’s important to realize that furlough is not available for the self-employed or freelancers. If you fall under this category then you will want to look into Universal Credit.
How much could you be paid?
As a part of the Jobs Retention Scheme, the government will pay up to 80% of your wages to a maximum figure of £2,500. If you earn a salary for which 80% of your wages is above £2,500 a month then you will not be able to receive the full 80% payment and will be capped at £25,500.
If you earn a minimum wage, then 80% of your salary without voluntary contribution from your employer, will take you below the minimum wage, in which case, if you will struggle financially, then you can seek additional help through the Universal Credit scheme.
How long will furlough payments last?
The Jobs Retention Scheme began on the 1st of March 2020 and is currently open to employers until June 2020, though this date may be extended if necessary. The minimum period of time for which an employee can be furloughed is 3 weeks, though, after this time, you could return to work, then return to furlough again for a further 3 weeks.
Can I work elsewhere while on furlough?
The short answer to this question is yes, granted that you have permission from your employer and can return to work with them if they ask. Although furloughed, you are still employed by your current employer and therefore will need to ask their permission to seek alternative employment and must be able to return to work for them at any time. Currently, the UK is experiencing an extreme shortage of fruit pickers and so if you are looking for alternative short term work to top up your furlough payment, then this could be a viable alternative.
What can you do while on furlough to stay productive?
Being placed on furlough can be demoralizing, but it’s important to look for the silver lining – you are not allowed to do any work at all for your employer while on furlough, so essentially, you are being paid 80% of your salary to sit at home and wait – there are worse things you could be doing.
Although while the sun is shining and your furlough is new, you may want to take some important time out for rest and recuperation, after a while you may find that you are twiddling your thumbs, so here are a few other things that you could be doing while on furlough to stay productive and to prepare you for when the furlough period ends.
COVID-19 has really highlighted how important it can be to have alternative sources of income for when your primary income stream dries up. Many of us use a lack of time as an excuse not to get our finances in order, but if there’s one thing you now have plenty of, it’s time. Sit down and look at your income and expenses to see where you could be saving yourself money and consider alternative revenue streams and investments for the future such as buying and renting landed property.
2. Learn something new
Spanish, knitting, coding, piano – learning a new skill is good for the soul and will help you to have a sense of purpose at a time when things may seem a little up in the air.
3. Tidy up your CV
Although you won’t want to think about it, it’s still important to prepare for a worst-case scenario, which in this instance, is that your employer can no longer afford to keep you on after furlough and that you end up unemployed. If this situation were to arise, you’ll thank yourself for preparing an up-to-date resume and will be in the best position to find alternative employment.
4. Work on yourself
You are your greatest asset and now, more than ever, you finally have the time to work selflessly on yourself. Get fit, work on your nutrition, practice meditation for your mental health, read, get lost in things that you enjoy, try your hand at gardening, bake – whatever it may be, do it for you.
Being placed on furlough may come as a shock, bringing with it many anxieties about your future. It’s important to remind yourself that you are valued and that you will make it through to the other side. So sit tight, make the most of the time you have been given and be thankful for the support that is available.