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Boss calls for chancellor to close loophole on furlough scheme declaring: ‘Otherwise I’ll go bust’

PUBLISHED: 06:00 24 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:57 24 April 2020

Jo Neal who runs the Out There forest school near Attleborough. Pic: Jo Neal

Jo Neal who runs the Out There forest school near Attleborough. Pic: Jo Neal

The owner of an outdoor forest school fears she will go out of business because she is being forced to make staff redundant.

Jo Neal, who runs the Out There venue near Attleborough, took on a vital third employee at the start of March, before lockdown. She was overjoyed when the chancellor Rishi Sunak recently extended the cut-off deadline for workers claiming furloughed wages to March 19.

But, to her horror, the chancellor added a clause which states to qualify, employees must be on a PAYE ‘Real Time Information’ (RTI) payroll submission by March 19, not just on the payroll. If payday is at the end of the month, which it is for many, they miss out because the RTI is only sent from employers to HMRC either on payday itself or up to a week before.

That means workers who started their new jobs before the deadline but were yet to receive their first wages are excluded from claiming furloughed pay.

Lauren Cooper. Pic: Lauren CooperLauren Cooper. Pic: Lauren Cooper

MORE: Staff who lost their jobs at three hotels win High Court case for redundancy

For Ms Neal, she has no choice but to make her employee redundant and fears it could make the difference to her business, which provides outdoor activities for children, after coronavirus.

“I took on the employee after she had volunteered for me, so she’s like a member of my family. When Sunak extended the scheme, I thought, fantastic, she’s covered, only to find that he had added in retrospect a clause, so it’s just a smokescreen. I, like the majority of employers, pay staff at the end of the month. I file the RTI to HMRC seven days beforehand.

Jo Neal at the Out There forest school providing outdoor activities for children of all ages. Pic; Jo NealJo Neal at the Out There forest school providing outdoor activities for children of all ages. Pic; Jo Neal

“I feel so desperately frustrated for my lovely staff. I have written to the chancellor saying my business can help the community to heal but without staff, we will go bust.”

It is estimated up to half a million workers could be affected and 8,300 people have joined a Facebook group ‘New Starter Justice’ calling for change.

Zoe Clark, from Norwich, started as a pastry chef at the Plough Inn, Marsham, near Aylsham in March. But because she did not get paid until the end of March, she is excluded.

The government has advised workers to go back to their former employers, ask to be rehired and then furloughed. But for Ms Clark this is not an option because she previously left the Open venue which is closing.

Zoe Clark and partner Daniel Dyke. Pic: Zoe ClarkZoe Clark and partner Daniel Dyke. Pic: Zoe Clark

“I feel stuck in limbo. My partner is also a chef and he has been furloughed but I still have my own bills to pay.”

Lauren Cooper, who started work in the restaurant at Notcutts garden centre in Norwich at the end of February, is also in the same situation. “Notcutts have been amazing, they have tried so much to help me. Luckily I live with my parents so I haven’t got the same costs as other people but it’s the principle. I’m now looking for another job.”

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