These UK Workers Changed Their Jobs Just Before The Coronavirus Outbreak, And Now They’re Not Entitled To Government Pay
“I feel like I, along with thousands of others, am being penalised simply for moving jobs around the time of the outbreak.”
Zoë Badder, 26, was excited to start her new job at a law firm. She had worked her one-month notice as an administrator at an estate agent and was going to take a couple of weeks off before starting her new role. She did not factor in a global pandemic turning her life upside down.
Now she's among thousands of salaried workers across the UK who are missing out on an unprecedented government scheme to pay them 80% of their wages during the coronavirus crisis — because they happened to start a new job in March.
Badder — who has set up a Facebook group so that those affected can support one another — lives with her partner who has been furloughed; the couple are now preparing to live on 80% of one income. “It’s going to be very tight if it carries on for months,” she said.
Under the coronavirus job retention scheme, employers can claim up to £2,500 a month for each of their workers who have been forced into temporary leave, otherwise known as a furlough.
But the scheme is only open for those employees who were on the payroll on Feb. 28, which means those who have moved jobs since that date have slipped through the net.
As of 8pm on Monday, more than 4,700 people had signed a petition calling on the government to review the scheme, and the hashtag #newstarterfurlough has started trending on Twitter.
Badder told BuzzFeed News she appreciated that the government’s response to the crisis had been designed from scratch in a matter of weeks, but she said that people in her situation had been forgotten.
She handed in her notice on Feb. 10 this year and had been due to start her new job at a solicitor’s office on March 23. But this has now been delayed, and she is unable to get furlough from her new employer.
Badder said firms should be allowed to furlough their new employees as long as they had proof they were in work on Feb. 28. “The government could also check each employee’s national insurance number and see that they have been in constant employment — paying taxes and entitled to help — but they’ve just changed jobs at an unlucky time,” she said.
“We believe we need to be supported as we shouldn’t be penalised and left with no income or support because we were trying to further our career by moving jobs. I worked very hard to get my new job, have worked hard all my adult life, and want to carry on working.”
The government scheme does cover employees who were made redundant since Feb. 28 if they are rehired by the employer. But it does not cover those who have resigned. It is understood that the Feb. 28 date was put in place to stop fraud so officials could check existing payroll data.
The Treasury has urged those who are not eligible for the job retention scheme to instead apply for universal credit; it has pointed to other support, such as mortgage holidays and help, for renters.
But Natalie Greenway, a 24-year-old customer services manager from Leicestershire, said this did not go far enough. She started a new job on March 16; her employer, while sympathetic, has told her she is not eligible for furlough.
“I just don’t understand how the government can say we’re not entitled to help purely because we changed jobs,” she said. “I’ve had no break between these jobs, so I’ve paid tax and national insurance continually.”
Greenway has agreed to stay on as an unpaid employee because she wants to keep the role after the coronavirus crisis has abated. “But it could be months before I’m back at work and getting paid again,” she said.
Ben Ashby, a 27-year-old design engineer in furniture manufacturing, is also trying to come to terms with what has happened after taking a job at a new firm in early March.
His final day at his previous employer was Feb. 28. He said his new employer was doing its “very best” to help him, but it was clear there had been a “huge oversight” from the government in the furlough scheme.
“I have worked since I was 16 and went to university to follow my dream of becoming a designer,” Ashby from West Yorkshire said. “I am now in a position where I have turned my passion into a career — but now I feel like I, along with thousands of others, am being penalised simply for moving jobs around the time of the outbreak.”
Tony Macdonald, a 31-year-old fire safety engineer from Dundee, has also been left high and dry. He accepted a new job in February and started on March 2. But he has since been put on unpaid leave as he cannot work from home; he said his employer had no choice but to deny him furlough. “Thousands of hardworking people are falling through the cracks,” he said.
Others who contacted BuzzFeed News included a woman in the early stages of pregnancy who moved to a full-time retail role on March 1. She now fears she will lose her maternity allowance when she goes on maternity leave because she has no choice but to now claim universal credit.
One TV producer said it was a “huge problem” in the entertainment industry as most young freelancers are pay-as-you-earn workers despite moving between short-term contracts. Many cannot be furloughed because they were not on a payroll on the specific date of Feb. 28.
Senior politicians are now calling on the government to rethink its scheme. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he had raised the issue at a phone conference on Friday with Treasury and Cabinet Office officials and would continue to press for action.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran also called for change: “I know so many people who are in this predicament of going from one contract to another and falling through the cracks. A small change from the government of furlough for these inbetweeners would mean the world to them.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “Our coronavirus job retention scheme is protecting thousands of jobs up and down the UK — with the government covering 80% of the salary of furloughed workers.
“Firms can re-employ staff made redundant after March 1 and those who do not qualify will be able to access a range of other support — including an increase in the Universal Credit allowance, income tax deferrals, £1 billion more support for renters and access to three-month mortgage holidays.”