Dear government…

An email just sent to Cerys Mcdonald, director of CV-19 policy co-ordination:

Dear Cerys,

I apologise for bothering you at such a busy time but I am writing about the conflicting interpretations being offered by HMRC about the CJRS, where it relates to PAYE freelancers.

I would be grateful if you could look at these two responses, both given by HMRC Customer Services in the last hour. They are two entirely contradictory answers to the same question which was put to them about rehiring and then furloughing workers whose contracts have come to an end:

These two responses match a vast number of others given by HMRC over the past four days and have resulted in chaos being inflicted on the lives of freelancers in the TV industry by the rewriting of the CJRS. It was this kind of thing which has caused a large number of TV production companies to feel they had to withdraw the offers they had made to furlough their workers, resulting in many people suddenly discovering they no longer had the means to pay their bills over the next few months.

It clearly is not the fault of the benighted HMRC representatives in Customer Services when they do this – not when the official guidelines have been written with such a lack of clarity. Please, please then can someone in authority confirm, as soon as possible, that what Rishi Sunak said in his Twitter live feed on April 3rd does still apply – that “if you were on payroll on the 28th February and then left – for whatever reason – the company can indeed take you back and then furlough you”.

The longer this confusion is allowed to continue, the less chance there is that companies in our industry will take the risk of doing what this scheme clearly set out to achieve: to be a lifeline for workers in these incredibly difficult times.

Would it be possible to address this? I would be grateful if you could let me know.

(And when you do know, y’know, do something about it please).

Urgent BECTU survey

If you are a PAYE worker and have been affected by the many changes to the Covid-19 Job Retention Scheme (furloughing) then BECTU needs to hear your views. 

As you may know the union is setting up urgent talks with the government to fight the case for TV freelancers and needs to gauge the scale of the problems with the scheme. To help that process, they need to hear from those affected – absolutely right now.

Please complete this short survey. It is totally anonymous and will really help!

Thanks.

Here is the form:
https://forms.gle/L5JmsThwLZcgvxqd6

Playing with people’s lives.

If you want to see the chaos being inflicted on freelancers’ lives by the utter mismanagement of this government furloughing scheme, then look no further than this.

Two tweeted questions to HMRC, exactly one week apart:

Saturday April 11th 2020

Seven days later…

Saturday April 18th 2020

One day you can pay the rent and put food on the table, one week later you can’t.

How can people be treated this badly?

Phew, good thing HMRC are certain about things.

Great. We have clarity. At least according to HMRC this morning.

The big question: if your fixed term contract has expired, can you be rehired by your employer and then put on the furlough scheme?

Ah, here comes a representative from HMRC, let’s ask him!

Hooray! Great! Good for Kulbar. Clear and unequivocal. Yes! It’s great to have some clarity given what a really important issue this is for freelancers who are wanting to pay their bi…

Hold on….someone else has asked. On Facebook:

Wait…what? I thought it was yes? The last chap said…

Ok never mind, someone else has asked. This will make it more clear:

(Yeah, you’re not going to get away with a non-answer to this one pal. She’s an employment lawyer…).

So…hold on, does that mean…I’m confused.

Ok let’s clear this one up once and for all.

Straight question, let’s get a straight answer: My contract has expired. Can I be rehired and then furloughed. Yes or No?

Great, all clear then. The answer to the question is Yes. And No.

Or – if you prefer it – first No. Then Yes:

Carry on people, nothing to see here. SNAFU.

Here are the facts.

**EDIT UPDATE**

**There have now been new guidelines released which say that anyone whose fixed term contract has expired can no longer be rehired and furloughed, where they had been allowed before.

As of 3pm Friday, the government furloughing scheme (CJRS) allows companies to rehire and furlough freelancers whose contracts have come or are coming to a natural end, whether or not those contracts were curtailed by Covid-19. Those contracts can also be extended until the end of the scheme (currently May 31st).

That is not conjecture, opinion or guesswork: those are the facts, as contained in the official government guidelines and every single piece of written guidance issued by official sources since they were published and amended (see numerous written responses from HMRC on previous pages). It is those guidelines which both ITV and the BBC are using to furlough freelancers until May 31st, including those whose contracts have come to a natural end.

Unless and until there is any change in the government’s position, that remains the case, whatever speculation there is out there, including on the pages of the PACT website and in emails from PACT to its members.

Anyone who suggests otherwise is scaremongering in a reckless and thoughtless way and is putting freelancers’ livelihoods at risk . There is a huge amount of distress being expressed by a lot of people now on social media, all of which is being caused directly by PACT continuing to put out information that is not publicly verified and is not supported by the facts as they exist.

If PACT continues to frighten their members into not furloughing their freelancers on the basis of unverified supposition then they are doing a significant disservice to the industry and all their members, almost all of whom are trying their best to help and support the freelancers they care for

John McVay – you need to take that guidance down until you have the official confirmation needed to support it. Until you do you are creating confusion and unnecessary grief to a lot of freelance workers in our industry.

More to come on this. For sure.


Amended furloughing guidelines are out.

And they are very good! Highlights:

1. A new eligibility date of 19th March:

“You must have been on your employer’s PAYE payroll before or on 19 March 2020 and notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 19 March 2020. This means your employer must have made an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of you to HMRC on or before 19 March 2020. If you were employed as of 28 February 2020 and on payroll (i.e. notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 28 February) and were made redundant or stopped working for your employer prior to 19 March 2020, you can also qualify for the scheme if your employer re-employs you and puts you on furlough”

2. No requirement for the contract to have ended early because of Covid-19, only that their business has been affected by it:

“It is designed to help employers whose operations have been severely affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) to retain their employees and protect the UK economy. However, all employers are eligible to claim under the scheme and the government recognises different businesses will face different impacts from coronavirus”.

3. No limit to furloughing such as the end of your contract (allowable up to the end of the scheme):

“If you’re on a fixed term contract your employer can choose to furlough you and claim a grant for 80% of your regular wages up to a cap of £2500 a month. Your employer can choose to renew or extend your contract during the furlough period”.

Important to observe also that this bit of PACT’s guidance which was starting to scare off employers who were planning to furlough their freelancers is not in the guidance:

That contract must have been suspended due to the impact of Covid-19 with some remaining work still to be done under the contract, and the prospect of returning to complete that work at some point in the future. So, for employees on fixed term contracts, provided that contract commenced on or before 28 February 2020 and provided it continues until at least 1 March 2020 and work was suspended by virtue of the impact of COVID-19 prior to conclusion of the contract then that employee may have their contract renewed or extended for a minimum of an additional 21 days and be placed on furlough leave“.

But this is in the guidance:

When the government ends the scheme, you must make a decision, depending on your circumstances, as to whether employees can return to their duties. If not, it may be necessary to consider termination of employment (redundancy).”

So you do NOT have to have “remaining work to do”, do NOT have to have the prospect of returning to complete any work and your specific contract does NOT have to have been terminated because of Covid-19. Obviously the eligibility date has now changed too.

No doubt PACT will remove that clause in their guidance before the day is up – good news for all!

Note also this:

Please use the online support and do not contact HMRC unless it is absolutely necessary – any questions should be directed at your agent, representative or our Web chat service”

If anyone has any doubt about their eligibility, ask HMRC Customer Service direct – they are the authority on the scheme!

Employers’ guidance is here

Workers’ guidance is here

A big bright green light for furloughing.

After several days of shifting sands, two announcements yesterday make life look a lot rosier for many freelancers who were relying on furlough to pay their bills over the next couple of months.

Firstly The Talent Manager released details of a webinar with HMRC on the practicalities of furloughing. Hot on the heels of trade association PACT publishing more restrictive guidance to its members (apparently based on a conversation with someone wandering the corrridors at HMRC), it soon became clear that the government furloughing scheme had much wider application after all.

PAYE Freelancers could, it seems, legitimately be furloughed whether their contracts had been ended by Covid-19 or for any reason at all – including if they came to a natural end – and they could also be re-contracted until the end of the scheme (currently May 31st), not just the end of their existing contract.

This is great news for freelancers, many of whom had started to receive notice that their furloughing offers might be rescinded and others whose companies were waiting for clearer guidance from HMRC.

It is of course also a firm and clear repudiation of the duff advice PACT was dishing out by email on Thursday and which is still on its website at the time of writing (Tuesday am 15th April)

And the good news did not end there, because within the hour the BBC had sent out an email to all its PAYE freelancers, reinforcing all the information contained in The Talent Manager’s webinar and going even further for some.

A big furloughy yes then to anyone who had been on contract with the Beeb on February 28th and an extension on full pay (up to a set maximum) until May 31st, again as confirmed by the government direct to the Corporation (“following updated Government guidance”). The BBC also reached out (horrible transatlantic expression but somewhat appropriate here) to those who had started working for them after Feb 28th too as it decided to self-fund the equivalent financial support for those freelancers too. Well done the BBC!

All in all then, a major result for TV freelancers. It seems that the government furloughing scheme has indeed been designed to be as accommodating as was hoped when Rishi Sunak declared that it was available for use by companies who had freelancers whose contracts had ended “for any reason“.

Which leaves just one matter in hand: time for PACT to clear up the mess it made on Thursday, because as long as those badly written guidelines remain on its website, the more that companies are liable to be misled into not doing the right thing by their freelancers in the way they always wanted to and the more foolish that organisation starts to look…

Once again then, over to you PACT.

Over to you PACT…

After two days of confusion about who said what to whom on the issue of furloughing, it is looking very likely that PACT has either been given some duff advice from someone or other at HMRC or entirely misinterpreted what they have been told.

The trade body rewrote the advice to their members on Thursday to suggest that a number of preconditions would have to apply for employers to be able to furlough their freelancers including:

“(The) contract must have been suspended due to the impact of Covid-19 with some remaining work still to be done under the contract, and the prospect of returning to complete that work at some point in the future” (PACT advice to members 9th April)

It seems however that that opinion does not accurately reflect the Treasury’s actual position on things. The guidelines say something very different of course, clearly suggesting that any worker can be re-contracted (or have their contract extended) and then be furloughed until the scheme ends, whatever the reason – not just because of Covid-19 – assuming of course that the worker was on payroll on February 28th.

And on Saturday, in a stunning demonstration of clarity in a world where matters rarely seems certain, HMRC Customer Support publicly put PACT right on precisely that point. As far as they were concerned, nothing had changed in terms of the preconditions for furloughing and PACT had got it completely wrong:

Added to that, a host of freelancers also had it confirmed by HMRC that their contracts could be extended or they could be rehired, irrespective of whether they had come to a “natural end” or not:

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And as if that were not enough, when HMRC was presented with the circumstances in one of PACT’s examples of a case they said was not eligible for furloughing, they gave completely the opposite view:

PACT’s example (highlighted)

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HMRC’s view

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A number of companies have already started to contact their freelancers suggesting that, based on PACT’s advice, they now might be suspending their furloughing offers, however all the above would throw some doubt into the need for that. While the guidance remains unchanged and while HMRC is firmly contradicting the advice that PACT is giving to its members, those recommendations are starting to look somewhat hasty and badly written, to say the least.

One thing is absolutely certain, PACT clearly needs to go back to HMRC, talk to someone who actually speaks with the authority of the Treasury and get the real facts. Until then, the official guidelines are what counts – and they are very clear that furloughing is appropriate for almost all freelancers.

PACT has some cleaning up to do it seems.