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Accountants urge HMRC to ease SME furlough claims

AccountingWEB is backing a campaign calling on HMRC to relax furloughing claim restrictions so businesses with fewer than 100 employees can submit their data as file uploads rather than having to enter details individually.

23rd Apr 2020
Editor in Chief (interim) AccountingWEB
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Open letter to HMRC
iStock_Petition_Gajus

Since the portal opened on Monday, accountants have complained about the laborious 14-screen sequence they have to go through – and the 15-minute time-out limit they are up against.

As Kate Upcraft explained in AccountingWEB’s Coronavirus Q&A webinar on Wednesday, larger companies can upload the details in a spreadsheet file and have a looser validation regime that allows them to submit claims without national insurance numbers.

Some of the issues that have emerged are due to design decisions HMRC made to implement the claims system as quickly as it could and there are hints that once the system beds in, some of the restrictions and validation routines will be tweaked to improve useability.

The NINO validation issue has already been raised with HMRC, which told the ICAEW that smaller employers can call its helpline to resolve any issues with missing numbers. Payroll lecturer Kate Upcraft, author of the our popular Get the details right on CJRS article, voiced hopes that the issue could be sorted by extending the upload facility for smaller claimants.

Corporate Finance Network letter

The moving force behind the public campaign to equalise treatment under the CJRS regime for small and large companies is accountant Kirsty McGregor, founder of the Corporate Finance Network.

“The ICAEW and ACCA have already requested this change. It’s frustrating that these things are taking such a long time to be decided. They’ve not said no. What I’m trying to do is move it up their list of priorities. There are so many other edits to be made, I don’t want them to forget about this,” McGregor told AccountingWEB.

So many other sectors and interests are lobbying the Treasury for special consideration that normal consultation routes are no longer effective. “They are inundated with ideas, so using the media is the only way to raise the issues that are occurring,” said McGregor.

While we await further news from HMRC on the issues raised by the Corporate Finance Network letter, we reproduce the full text detailing its main concerns and signatories. Members can voice their approval by commenting below.

An Open Letter to HMRC regarding the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

There are around 5.9m businesses in the UK of which 2.3m are employers.  The vast proportion of those employ less than 100 people and they are advised by the 181,000 accountancy professionals in specialised public practices, who are currently bearing the brunt of supporting the SME business community during the economic fallout from the impact of Covid-19.  This is putting massive pressure on their working days and their wellbeing, most of whom are working incredibly long hours which cannot be sustained.We appreciate the raft of business support measures which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced and the great lengths that HM Treasury and HMRC have gone to, in order to deliver that support to the businesses in good time.

However, the process of making the grant applications to the CJRS portal, for the smaller employers, keying the name and National Insurance number of each individual furloughed employee line by line, is causing a practical issue for the accountancy firms and payroll agencies who are processing grant claims for their many clients. 

An average independent accountancy firm may have 100-400 claims to process, each with a number of employees.  This application is taking them a considerable amount of time to upload.  On average, a claim for an employer with 60 or 70 employees takes over two hours to type into the portal. 

Moreover, if the portal is slow, as it appeared to be on 22nd April as the volume of users increased substantially, it can crash partway through the claim, or slow down to a processing speed which certainly causes the application to take an even longer time.  The accountancy firms and payroll agencies don’t have the resources to dedicate to this, therefore it is falling upon a small number of people to do a vast amount of work, and probably without full recompense for their time.

But even more important than the commercial impact, is the resultant effect on the personal wellbeing of these individuals.  The pressure on their working day is becoming intolerable.

We, the undersigned, are calling on HMRC to change the application process for CJRS grant claims for less than 100 employees and to bring it into line with the process for the larger employers, that is to be able to use the spreadsheet upload system, from the date of the next claim period.

Signed
Corporate Finance Network
AccountingWEB
2020 Group
AVN
Accountex
Capitalise.com
Clarity
GoProposal

 

Replies (27)

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By lincolnartist
23rd Apr 2020 16:31

The pressure in having to enter all the claims between Monday and Wednesday so people would receive funds for the end of the month was immense

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Replying to lincolnartist:
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By johnjenkins
24th Apr 2020 09:19

You can say that again (please don't). Let's hope that all the little anomalies are sorted by next pay day.

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By meadowsaw227
24th Apr 2020 09:20

I've got more important things to think about than a bit of typing ! .

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By lincolnartist
24th Apr 2020 09:23

Well good for you.........

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By meadowsaw227
24th Apr 2020 09:31

There there ! .

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Replying to meadowsaw227:
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By C Graham
24th Apr 2020 10:51

agree - parents coping with home schooling - businesses worried about the longterm implications of being shut down and the government have managed to put in a lifeline to potentially keep employees in jobs and the economy afloat.

Over 70s potentially having to isolate with no end date. NHS workers exposed to the dangers of being in the frontline of infected patients. If applying for furlough involves a bit more work than usual then really it is not a big sacrifice compared to the sacrifices others are making.

The website has coped with immense applications in just a few days.

The government did not have time to spend months researching the logistics and fine tuning it to suit all businesses - it has responded with urgency to set up a portal that could make payments in 6 days of application. A few extra hours of data input is nothing compared to the impact the speed of payment has once the entries have been loaded.

I agree with you Meadowsaw in other words.

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Replying to C Graham:
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By AWeb72
24th Apr 2020 11:34

Whatever pressure one person is under is their own. "Someone worse off than you" is such a terrible phrase.
It's not fricking Top Trumps

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By rememberscarborough
24th Apr 2020 11:37

My missus hates it as well but I'm always a glass half full type of guy...

On a positive note we can see that our claims are going to be paid on Monday. Nice way to start the weekend....

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Replying to rememberscarborough:
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By lincolnartist
24th Apr 2020 13:39

Is there a way to view when claims are being paid?

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Replying to lincolnartist:
Morph
By kevinringer
24th Apr 2020 16:18

I submitted my first claim on Monday. My client contacted me today because his online banking shows a credit from HMRC on the 27th. Currently agents can't track the claim after the 'submit' button has been pressed.

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By DenisJC
24th Apr 2020 09:21

We have furloughed over 400 people but across 7 different PAYE accounts therefore I have had to manually enter every single one of them. However you only need to manually enter their names and NI numbers and you can copy and paste these straight from your calculation spreadsheet in excel. I was therefore able to complete a claim of over 90 people in under half an hour so I'm not sure where this 2 hour average for 60-70 people is coming from.

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Replying to DenisJC:
By Kate Upcraft
24th Apr 2020 09:32

I'm glad you've ben able to do yours so quickly, many agents I've spoke to this week with an average of 400 clients, and team numbers down, aren't able to sit and do a claim without being interrupted by constant calls and emails from very worried clients who are desperate for the money. There is also the need to checking/amend calculations before they input them if they have been done by a client. Good to know that's not your experience, but It's not what everyone is finding in the agent community

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Replying to bassett1:
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By C Graham
24th Apr 2020 10:56

But not really a big deal is it compared to the time, worry and sacrifice being made by some. It's open all the time I believe so there will be some quiet points in the day and presumably everyone is working from home so can log on whenever suits. Avoid the busy hours when less likely to be interrupted.

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By julie.severn
24th Apr 2020 11:01

I agree, it really doesn't take that long! And if you're being interrupted, do it in the evening when it's nice and quiet. We all have to pull together on this, what's a little overtime when it's people's livelihoods at stake.

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By NeilW
24th Apr 2020 09:49

It would be far better if you backed a campaign to replace the whole mess with a single PAYE system run by the Bank of England that just pays at the National Living Wage NI numbers paid by other PAYE systems in the last tax year that haven't received sufficient from any other PAYE system in the last month.

Then businesses can just put people on short time in the usual manner, and the Bank of England sorts it out.

The data collection is then "NI Number", "Name", "Bank Account Details". That can be handed back to the employee to do directly, and it can be left in place as it will back off automatically.

Government. Never do something simple when something ridiculously complicated will do.

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By youngloch
24th Apr 2020 09:53

We’re having to apply for filing extensions for company accounts to create the time to do everything.

VAT deadlines aren’t shifting nor are PAYE RTI deadlines.

New work which didn’t exist a few weeks ago

CBILS applications, CJRS claims, helping clients make applications for grants, coaching clients (I’ve become a counsellor to SO many), regular circular emails, created a YouTube channel, 23 April deadline for late 2019 return instructors

....and I had a suspected case of the virus which wiped me out for 17 days not helped because I’d been working 14 hour days the weeks before and have been since (including ‘weekends’).

On a serious note remember to look after yourselves because if you do catch it then it’s not fun! My 47 year old brother in law was in a critical condition for two weeks and had no pre existing conditions!

Let’s just hope that the self employed system is a bit more automatic - I’m not convinced though - there’s the issue of whether they’ve traded in 19/20 and 20/21 - will be boxes to tick and so many clients use accountants as they don’t want any interaction with HMRC - I sense another instructional YouTube video in a few weeks.

This is making January feel like a summer holiday (remember those?)

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By busacrun
24th Apr 2020 10:18

it wouldnt be so bad if the employee details section was a grid to enter all employees in on one screen - atleast that would be easy to copy and paste to, its having to enter each one and save individually that is both a killer in terms of time it takes, but also increases the chance of error

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Replying to busacrun:
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By C Graham
24th Apr 2020 11:02

we can all make up the extra time when we've no client businesses to look after.
Until then just do our bit. The portal has been set up with urgency to cope with huge numbers of applications - there was no time to test and fine tune it presumably.

Compare that to eg, Xero software who refuse to put in a facility for sending ageing statements to clients - 30 60 90 days - years and years of requesting it. cashflow is critical right now and if the government can set up a system in a few weeks, it's ridiculous that the tools of our profession cannot give us that fundamental option.

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WUTSTS
By Michael_R_Grant
24th Apr 2020 10:54

I'm definitely looking forward to entering everyone on the system again next month!

(Having said that, Sage's CJRS module is supposed to have launched today - although they sent the email about it before the download link or the hyperlinks on the step-by-step guide were working. Hopefully, when it is up and running, this will allow Sage Payroll users to do everything through there, which is potentially a big timesaver particularly if it can do the 'average vs same month last year' comparison calc for casual staff. I'm finding that the calculations for certain clients take much longer took much longer than actually entering all the staff details on HMRC's system, annoying though that is.)

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Replying to Michael_R_Grant:
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By Paul Deakins
24th Apr 2020 12:49

Only helpful if your processing for 100+ employees, otherwise you have the problem of manually entering the data on the CJRS claim form which is 14 pages long.

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By rememberscarborough
24th Apr 2020 11:41

Did anyone else have problems with their online accounts timing out after a short amount of time? Even when I was only filing half a dozen I was running out of time but my missus wasn't having that problem so I'm wondering if there's a setting somewhere that needs changing. Any ideas?

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By Paul Deakins
24th Apr 2020 12:46

I’m just wondering if anyone is having difficulty with the CJRS download from Sage? I’m in Scotland and it seems we are the last to be able to access/download the module. The link they sent me is broken and trying to get a live chat online is near on impossible. Thanks.

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By silverghost
24th Apr 2020 13:23

Has anyone else had the problem of trying to set up an online PAYE account to make the claim (where before it has been file-only), only for the HMRC site to reject what are established PAYE & accts office refs, saying "this information does not exist for PAYE for employers"?

It does exist! Even the helpline person agreed - but the tech guy has not replied within the 48 hours as promised.

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Morph
By kevinringer
24th Apr 2020 16:23

TIP: Build a claims spreadsheet for each employer, then copy (CTRL+C) and paste (CTRL+V) each cell one at a time into the CJRS claim portal. Next month use the sa