Last reviewed 2 November 2020

Having reluctantly conceded that the three tier system in England is not reducing the coronavirus rate of infection, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that he sees no alternative but to adopt tougher national measures.

There is one significant difference between the latest measures and those the country experienced during the spring lockdown, however, and that is that the education sector — school, colleges and universities — will remain open.

While non-essential shops, leisure and entertainment venues will be closed, click and collect services will continue and essential shops, including supermarkets, will remain open.

From Thursday 5 November, “everyone must stay at home” and people should work from home wherever possible with pubs, bars and restaurants all closed, except for takeaway and delivery services.

Workplaces should stay open where people cannot work from home, the Prime Minister said, in the construction or manufacturing sectors for example.

People cannot travel internationally or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions. Overnight stays away from primary residences will not be allowed, except for specific exceptions including for work.

Public services, such as job centres, courts, and civil registration offices will remain open.

Help available for businesses

The Treasury has announced that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) has been extended for one month with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2500.

Under the extended scheme, the cost for employers of retaining workers will be reduced compared to the current scheme, which ended on 31 October.

“This means the extended furlough scheme is more generous for employers than it was in October,” the Treasury explained.

Businesses will have flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part-time basis or furlough them full time, and will only be asked to cover National Insurance contributions (NICs) and pension contributions only for the hours the employee does not work.

For the average claim, these contributions account for just 5% of total employment costs.

All employers with a UK bank account and UK PAYE schemes can claim the grant. Neither the employer nor the employee needs to have previously used the CJRS.

However, it must be noted that, to be eligible to be claimed for under this extension, employees must have been on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30 October 2020. This means a Real Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment for that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before that date.

In addition, business premises forced to close in England are to receive grants worth up to £3000 per month under the Local Restrictions Support Grant, as follows:

  • for properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, grants will be £1334 per month, or £667 per two weeks;

  • for properties with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000, grants will be £2000 per month, or £1000 per two weeks; and

  • for properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over, grants will be £3000 per month, or £1500 per two weeks.

A further £1.1 billion is being given to local authorities, distributed on the basis of £20 per head, for one-off payments to enable them to support businesses more broadly.

Further details, including how to claim this extended support through an updated claims service, will be provided shortly, the Government has said.

Looking ahead

The Government will put its proposals to a vote in Parliament on Wednesday 4 November and, although it obviously has a healthy majority, a number of its backbenchers have expressed opposition to the idea of a stricter lockdown.

While it is extremely unlikely that the Government will be defeated in the vote, a number (including former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith) have begun speaking out against the proposals.

They will be even more unhappy when they read comments from Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to the effect that, if the R rate is not brought below 1, there may have to be an extension of the restrictions beyond 2 December.

Echoing his warning, Sage member Sir Jeremy Farrar said the proposed end date of the four-week lockdown was “useful” but people should not be “fixed on it”.

Finally, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotherham have joined the National Education Union (NEU) in calling for England's schools and colleges to close during the lockdown.

The NEU has warned that if schools and colleges stay open, the restrictions will be less effective.

Comment by Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula

The announcement that the furlough scheme will be extended will be welcome news to employers and employees who may have fallen through the gaps presented by the Job Support Scheme which was intended to be in place from 1 November.

Although the national lockdown in England is slightly less strict than it was back in March, the impact on businesses will be the same as thousands of employers will now need to shut their doors under Government instruction for the second time. Employers should use the remaining days until the lockdown begins to speak to employees about the impact of the lockdown and get agreement to furlough so that redundancies can be avoided, but should be aware that more flexibility has been built in to the rules. Employers can use furlough for the first time and can furlough employees who have not been furloughed before provided they began working and had been paid at least once, by 30 October. No employer contribution to wages is needed for unworked hours; grants will be set at 80% of wages to a maximum of £2500 per person per month which means that wage assistance has increased.

However, full guidance is yet to be published, so we are still waiting for the full picture. As we have seen several times in recent months, the rules can, and do, change very quickly.