Announced in March in an effort to protect jobs, the scheme means that employers can ask qualifying workers to agree to stay at home but still be paid at least 80 per cent of their normal wages through a Government grant.
But changes to the scheme announced over the last few days mean that more categories of workers now qualify for help, including agency workers, working parents with childcare problems caused by school closures, and vulnerable workers advised by the NHS to self-isolate.
The scheme opened for applications today.
On Thursday, the Government changed the cut-off date for qualifying workers from 28 February to 19 March, a change which it is claimed could benefit hundreds of thousands of workers.
But many businesses may not be aware of these additions to the scheme, or the fact that they can change furlough decisions they have already made in order to support more members of staff.
Shaun Duffy, Employment Rights Advisor at CAS, said that businesses and workers have been doing their best to make the right decisions during a time of national emergency, but where those decisions may have denied access to the scheme, an employer could look again and apply the new rules, leading to more positive results for employees.
“If workers have not been furloughed before, it is possible that they could now qualify. Act quickly, contact your employer to ask for help and show them the new Government guidance for employers.
“A claim for wages can be backdated to an earlier decision, even if the employer decides to put the worker on furlough now to reflect the Government’s current guidance.”
CAS said it was now dealing with a record number of cases every day.
Many people contacting CAS are unsure about their rights as workers during lockdown, while others are looking for advice and support to apply for Universal Credit after being made redundant.
The launch of the scheme comes as the Government was warned of the economic cost for many companies of any delay in its implementation.
In a statement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our unprecedented job retention scheme will protect millions of jobs across the country and is now up and running.
“It’s vital that our economy gets up and running again as soon as it’s safe – and this scheme will allow that to happen.”
Approximately 5,000 HMRC staff will operate the scheme, intended to assist thousands of UK firms, with the money due to reach bank accounts within six working days, a statement from the Treasury said.
Phone lines and web-chat services will be available to help answer applicants’ questions, with the scheme launching 10 days ahead of schedule, it added.
The Chancellor earlier announced the scheme will be extended for a further month until the end of June, in light of the ongoing countrywide Covid-19 lockdown.
Adam Marshall, director general at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “Our research indicates that two-thirds of firms have furloughed some portion of their workforce.
“With April’s payday approaching, it is essential that the application process is smooth and that payments are made as soon as possible. Any delay would exacerbate the cash crisis many companies are facing and could threaten jobs and businesses.”