Furlough scheme portal opens for claims on 20 April
HMRC announced plans this week to open the online Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) service on 20 April with the first claims being paid 10 days later. File-only and payroll bureaus will be omitted from claiming.
Since the scheme was announced on 20 March, many business owners have been concerned whether the HMRC will pay CJRS grants soon enough to save cash-starved businesses before it is too late.
Yesterday, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra told the Treasury select committee the CJRS will be ready to go a week on Monday. His announcement was accompanied by an HMRC note to tax agents setting out further details:
- The scheme is due to go live on 20 April with first payments being made 10 days later
- Future claims will be paid within four to six days
- The online CJRS service is now undergoing beta testing with a group of selected employers
- Applicants will access the system using their current government gateway login
- Further guidance will be issued by HMRC next week (week commencing 13 April) explaining on how to use the system
- Following the initial backdated claims, claims can be made no more than 14 days before payrolls are run but will be accepted for the different pay periods
- Tax agents who are authorised to act for PAYE matters will be able to file claims on behalf of their clients
- File-only agents and payroll bureaus will not be able to access the service “due to data protection reasons”.
Now being tested
In yesterday’s meeting, Harra told MPs the basic IT service went live last weekend. On Wednesday morning (8 April), it was then opened up for live testing with a “small number of invited employers who are today going to be using it in earnest”.
“We have tested its capacity and we are confident that it will be able to cope with the very large volume of claims that we expect to receive,” Harra said. “We have scaled system to cope with 2m PAYE schemes and claims in first 10 days,” Harra said.
With a design capacity of 450,000 users per hour, HMRC thinks it is ready to meet the initial influx of backdated claims. Anyone who has tried to book a supermarket delivery recently will be familiar with the queueing that happens when demand is high, Harra said, but with the system capacity in place, that should lessen before too long.
Apart from around 600 PAYE scheme operators who couldn't file electronically, the new claim portal will be available to any PAYE scheme employer. However, those who pay employees through payroll bureaus will not be able get the processor to claim for them.
“These employers will need to have own online credentials so they can process these claims themselves,” Harra said.
Support pack for claims due next week
Harra admitted that the biggest challenge would be helping the maximum number of employers to serve themselves online rather than having to contact HMRC for advice in large numbers. “Clearly, if very large volumes of employers have to contact us in the concentrated period of just a few days, then we will really struggle to provide the kind of service that we would want to,” he said.
According to Harra, 2,000 HMRC staff will be redeployed for CJRS support, with another 3,500 staff from other areas who could be called on if needed. HMRC is also working with professional bodies such as the CIOT and ICAEW to provide support and help to their clients.
Following guidance released on 26 March and 4 April, HMRC is putting together a support pack on how to compile and upload claims. However, he added, “If a million employers try to ring us all on the same day, it will not be possible [to provide] enough resources to handle all of those calls at the same time.”
As is usual these days, AccountingWEB members were tracking the announcements in Any Answers within hours. In addition to the printed guidance, [email protected] flagged up an HMRC webinar on the CJRS scheme taking place on Wednesday 15 April.
Harra told MPs that he was “really proud” of the way his colleagues had worked with CapGemini at such speed to get the service ready by 20 April.
Even under the pressure of such important deadlines and the parliamentary grilling, the HMRC managed to crack a cvil servant’s joke. “This experience has shown people at HMRC can do things that we didn't know we can do, the way we organise, the way we work and the way we organise how quickly we can deliver things,” he said.
“I do fear that ministers will believe in future we can do things expect everything delivered in one month.”
Harra also confirmed that HMRC would be setting up an online "whistle-blower" service for workers to report employers who abuse the system.
Victoria Todd of LITRG welcomed this move saying "Reports we are receiving from workers indicate to us that there are a number of employers out there who are asking their staff to carry on working, even though they have been placed on furlough.
It seems there are some employers who intend to claim the grant but who then have no intention on paying it over to their employees."