Full-time workers who have recently changed jobs are being sacked or left without pay because of an apparent loophole in the government’s coronavirus support scheme, Sky News can reveal.
Job change data from the website LinkedIn suggests at least several thousand people could be affected by the clause.
Sky News has spoken to dozens of workers who started new roles in the days and weeks after the cut-off point, meaning their employer cannot claim the 80% wage subsidy.
Dundee-based software engineer Kuljit Athwal has worked full time for 25 years but was laid off just weeks into a new job because he started three days after the cut-off point.
“I have three children under ten who are no longer going to school… my wife is a healthcare assistant in a pharmacy, so she works sometimes 12 hour shifts a day,” he said.
“This scheme was a lifeline for me…it just so happened this great opportunity came up for me when it did in January and I changed jobs just at the wrong moment in time.”
The Treasury says the measures are already protecting thousands of jobs.
It is understood the 28 February date has been used so the government can reference claims against pay data.
But Tim Roache, General Secretary of the GMB Union said: “if you’ve been working, paid your taxes, done everything you were supposed to but just happened to have changed jobs at the wrong time, it can’t be right that there’s no support”.
Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell says he’s raised the issue with the government and will continue to press for action.
A Facebook group calling for change has hundreds of members while thousands of people have signed a petition against the clause.
Treasury guidance states that employers can re-hire staff that have been made redundant and still claim the subsidy.
But that doesn’t apply if the worker has voluntarily left their post and some employees say firms are reluctant to keep former or outgoing staff on their books.
Sophie Evans is currently working a three-month notice period with a law firm in Birmingham but says her new employer cannot claim the subsidy for her when she joins them in the coming weeks.
While her existing firm could extend her contract and claim the wage subsidy, she says they won’t do it as they have “no obligation” to help.
“Why would they waste their resources even sorting it out? It also raises legal issues – my firm will not assist and wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole,” she said.
Some small businesses also say they are being forced to choose between sacking new starters or further financial pressure.
Heather Backstrom, who runs a small firm that trains welders in Chester, says she has not been able to claim the subsidy for one new starter.
“For as long as we can we’re going to pay him but unfortunately we don’t know when we’re going to actually re-open… it’s just very confusing these guidelines over the date of the 28 February. I just don’t understand where they’ve got that date from,” she said.
Ellen Florence from Berkshire applied for job seekers allowance after the start date of her new role at a marketing agency was pushed back to July, but says high demand means she hasn’t yet heard anything back.
She also said that jobs she’s applied for with other companies have been suspended because of the coronavirus outbreak.
London-based Samuel Kier was made redundant from the charity sector job he started in mid-March but says he’s been unable to get help from Citizen’s Advice as they are already running at full capacity.
“None of this is the fault of my employer, who had no legal alternative other than to make me redundant. The fault lies solely with the Job Retention Scheme itself,” he said.
A Treasury spokesperson said those who do not qualify for the scheme “will be able to access a range of other support – including an increase in the Universal Credit allowance, income tax deferrals, £1bn more support for renters and access to three-month mortgage holidays”.