Coronavirus support loophole leaves workers without pay

Full-time workers who have recently changed jobs are being sacked or left without pay because of an apparent loophole in the government’s coronavirus support scheme, Sky News can reveal.

To be eligible for the wage subsidy of up to £2,500-a-month because of the COVID-19 outbreak affect on workers, an employee must have been on their company’s payroll on 28 February.

Job change data from the website LinkedIn suggests at least several thousand people could be affected by the clause.

Sky News has spoken to dozens of workers who started new roles in the days and weeks after the cut-off point, meaning their employer cannot claim the 80% wage subsidy.

Dundee-based software engineer Kuljit Athwal has worked full time for 25 years but was laid off just weeks into a new job because he started three days after the cut-off point.

“I have three children under ten who are no longer going to school… my wife is a healthcare assistant in a pharmacy, so she works sometimes 12 hour shifts a day,” he said.

“This scheme was a lifeline for me…it just so happened this great opportunity came up for me when it did in January and I changed jobs just at the wrong moment in time.”

The Treasury says the measures are already protecting thousands of jobs.

It is understood the 28 February date has been used so the government can reference claims against pay data.

But Tim Roache, General Secretary of the GMB Union said: “if you’ve been working, paid your taxes, done everything you were supposed to but just happened to have changed jobs at the wrong time, it can’t be right that there’s no support”.

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell says he’s raised the issue with the government and will continue to press for action.

A Facebook group calling for change has hundreds of members while thousands of people have signed a petition against the clause.

Treasury guidance states that employers can re-hire staff that have been made redundant and still claim the subsidy.

But that doesn’t apply if the worker has voluntarily left their post and some employees say firms are reluctant to keep former or outgoing staff on their books.

Sophie Evans is currently working a three-month notice period with a law firm in Birmingham but says her new employer cannot claim the subsidy for her when she joins them in the coming weeks.

While her existing firm could extend her contract and claim the wage subsidy, she says they won’t do it as they have “no obligation” to help.

“Why would they waste their resources even sorting it out? It also raises legal issues – my firm will not assist and wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole,” she said.

Some small businesses also say they are being forced to choose between sacking new starters or further financial pressure.

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