Citizens Advice fears the government’s bold action to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic could be undermined by confusion and patchy use of the job retention scheme by some employers.
The charity’s frontline advisers, who are at the forefront of the response to this crisis, are seeing cases on a daily basis of people who are at risk of slipping through the safety net despite potentially being entitled to government support.
New research from Citizens Advice shows around 6 million people in the UK (18% of the total workforce) have already seen their hours cut, been laid off or made redundant. And almost four out of 10 (38%) people have lost household income because of this crisis, with nearly one in 12 (8%) losing 80% of their household income or more.
Demand for the charity’s redundancy advice has doubled. Its web page "what to do if your employer has told you not to work" has been the most-read page this month with more than 175,000 views.
Citizens Advice welcomes additional government guidance on the jobs retention scheme which was issued on Saturday. The charity hopes the measures will help clear confusion about which employees can be furloughed and go further to protect many of the 6 million workers who have already seen a hit to their income.
If it doesn’t, Citizens Advice believes the government may need to consider further options to ensure people can get support through the scheme, such as putting more pressure on employers or giving employees in certain situations a right to be furloughed.
‘If I pass coronavirus onto my daughter the chances are she would die’
Dad-of-four Mark returned to work as a HGV driver in February, after spending eight months caring for his daughter who is undergoing treatment for a rare cancer. But in March, the family were told they needed to self-isolate as his daughter is one of the 1.5 million who must be shielded from coronavirus. As he couldn’t return to work he was made redundant the next day.
He said: “I spoke to my manager and explained that if someone in my home caught coronavirus and passed it onto my daughter the chances are she would die.
“They said that as a driver I would not be in contact with many people and could I not just self-isolate in my cabin. I said that wouldn't be possible.
“My family and their wellbeing comes first, so I have to accept that I no longer have a job. It's just really insensitive and feels wrong that they can let me go for following the government guidelines to shield my daughter as she is high-risk.”
Citizens Advice is helping people explain the latest government guidance to their current and former employers. However it fears that some may fall through the net due to confusion, or that a minority of employers may deliberately make employees redundant when they would be eligible for the scheme.
The charity is also calling on the government to look again at those who are not yet covered by the government’s Job Retention Scheme. This includes people who are at higher risk of coronavirus, such as those who are pregnant or have diabetes, but who are unable to work from home. It is also concerned about those who have recently become self-employed but are not covered by the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme.
Dame Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:
“The government has unveiled a remarkable package of support to help people keep their heads above water during this crisis. It must now ensure employers are using this to protect their workers, as well as opening it up to cover even more people.
“We’re already starting to see heartbreaking cases where employees have been denied help from the scheme and have instead been made redundant.
“While it’s not clear how much of this is due to confusion, cash flow fears, or the need to downsize, we think the government needs a clear plan to protect people if the support is not filtering through. That is the only way to reduce the burden on the benefits system, and retain the link between an employer and their staff.”