Payroll providers move to support furlough claims
Sage and other payroll software developers responded to what one observer called “the biggest day in payroll for years” with new features to support furlough grant claims under the coronavirus job retention scheme.
Sage and other payroll software developers responded to what one observer called “the biggest day in payroll for years” with new features to support furlough grant claims under the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS).
HMRC opened its coronavirus job retention scheme portal at 8am on Monday morning.
Within the first hour, HMRC reported that it had 67,000 claims, rising to a total of 140,000 claims on the first day.
Payroll industry responds
Even before the portal opened, payroll developers were getting in touch to advise that they were ready to help their customers through the claim sequence. Cloud payroll developers Staffology and Paycircle were the first to announce they had devised report formats to help employers make their claims, but payroll giant Sage was not far behind.
Brightpay has been testing a similar CJRS claim report and said it would be available on Thursday 23 April.
The way the system works is akin to HMRC’s old PAYE reporting tool rather than the newer API-driven process for Making Tax Digital (MTD) submissions. For most employers, this will mean manually entering details of the payments made to furloughed staff.
“We pay about half the private sector workforce, so we had a big duty of care to get that right,” said Sage vice president of product Jon Cowan. “We worked closely with HMRC team to work out the different questions and answers so the inputs into the portal would be as simple as possible.”
Having influenced the specification of the inputs, Sage was then able to create an output option from its software to compile the necessary data. Alternatively, it would make it available as a file that could be uploaded by employers with more than 100 employees to HMRC’s portal.
The module is available for free as a new menu tab on all the company’s payroll products, Cowan said.
Elsewhere, Xero has added furloughing categories to its UK payroll product, so users can process furlough leave and split out the wage costs for online claims.
The tax department was rightly proud of building a claims portal in the space of a month. But its promotional mailing on Friday advising employers that “to receive payment by 30 April, you will need to complete an application by 22 April” may have stimulated a surge of visitors when the system was barely up and running on the first day.
Numerous AccountingWEB members were among the first wave of users to try the system. Site traffic and reports on an Any Answers thread started at 6am on Monday indicated that many had worked over the weekend to get their claims ready.
At 7:34am AccountingWEB member gordonb commented: “I have just submitted two claims with no problem, apart from it being a bit time consuming.”
Accountantcole added that the forms were straightforward to complete but encountered what the portal called “technical difficulties” when they were submitted. Members described the complications of working through 14 screens to submit their claims and some encountered cutout times after 15 minutes - not a helpful limit if you are working through a long list of employees.
Later in the day, Kate Upcraft published an update on some of the technical snags she and other users had encountered. Included are the differences encountered by employers with fewer than 100 employees who have to key the data in manually, and those reporting over 100+ furloughed employees who are able to upload a data spreadsheet.
There is a national insurance validation rule that is catching out some employees without numbers. While HMRC turned the NINO validation off for the bulk uploaders, that concession has not been extended to smaller employers entering details manually.
Need for speed
Having put significant emphasis on the need for “digital links” for the new MTD regime, it’s odd for HMRC to by-pass any digital connections for the CJRS portal.
Sage’s Jon Cowan sympathised with users that the process could be more automated, but acknowledged that for speed of development, HMRC had made use of existing technologies. “The timescales have compromised it. Potentially it’s a pain, but we’ve tried to make it as easy as possible to transpose the information in.
“Remember though, that CJRS is a lifeline for small business, which will enable them to get cash help within six working days,” Cowan said. “If you think of it in the context of the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, this is a real achievement to get money to businesses that need it.”
For further background on the CJRS technicalities, see Kate Upcraft’s article and watch this week’s Coronavirus Q&A webinar on the subject.
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