Colleges set to furlough staff through Covid-19 job retention scheme

Colleges across England are identifying staff that could be eligible for an 80 per cent wage subsidy from the Covid-19 job retention scheme, FE Week understands.

One principal said they had identified “about 30 staff to furlough on the basis that we’ve lost income from apprenticeships and commercial programmes”.

Another said their board had unanimously approved a plan for more than a dozen staff to be furloughed as they worked in restaurants, salons and gyms that relied on fee income and had shut this month.

The coronavirus job retention scheme is a temporary scheme which will last at least three months starting from 1 March 2020.

The government, due to have the scheme up and running by the end of this month, says “employers can use a portal to claim for 80 per cent of furloughed employees’ usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month, plus the associated Employer National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment employer pension contributions on that wage”.

But colleges leaders have been seeking more guidance as the HMRC also said: “Where employers receive public funding for staff costs, and that funding is continuing, we expect employers to use that money to continue to pay staff in the usual fashion – and correspondingly not furlough them. This also applies to non-public sector employers who receive public funding for staff costs.”

Many colleges are considering what to do for staff funded from unprotected sources as the Department for Education is only promising to keep paying the Education and Skills Funding Agency grant income.

In a briefing last night, the Association of Colleges said they have had “had lots of queries about the job retention scheme and about whether colleges should use it”.

They warned their member colleges that they have “been told clearly by senior officials that DfE won’t be able to cover all college income streams”…so…“ in the absence of any new guidance, we think it entirely proper for colleges to consider furloughing staff whose roles wholly relate to non-funded activities which have now stopped or to physical locations which are now closed”.

The Treasury, as the body responsible for the scheme, has been approached for comment.

The government’s latest guidance on furloughing during Covid-19 can be found here.