Coronavirus: 'I missed out on furlough payments by a day'

By Alex Regan
BBC News

  • Published
Natalie GreenwayImage source, Natalie Greenway
Image caption,
Natalie Greenway is campaigning to get the job retention scheme cut-off date amended

In normal circumstances, the prospect of starting a new job would hold the excitement of a fresh start and, potentially, a better pay packet.

But in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown, thousands of people who moved jobs in the past month have found themselves caught in a web of financial hardship and stress.

As a result, people who would have been furloughed in their old jobs are facing uncertain futures and grappling with the benefits system for the first time.

Here are some of their stories.

'I changed job a day too late'

Image source, Bryn Robinson
Image caption,
Bryn Robinson accepted a new job on 29 February, a day after the government's cut-off

Bryn Robinson, from Essex, accepted a new job in the motor industry on 29 February.

But a week ago, father-of-two Mr Robinson was told his new company would be shutting down as it was deemed a non-essential business.

He hoped to benefit from the government scheme, which companies can use to pay their staff 80% of their wages - up to £2,500 a month.

But the Treasury says qualifying employees must be registered on the company's PAYE system by 28 February to limit the possibility of fraud.

Now Mr Robinson potentially faces months without a salary, the only household income being his wife's maternity pay.

"It feels unjust," he said. "I'm not trying to defraud the government out of anything - I just changed job a day too late.

"I've been employed for the last 12 years and I've worked and paid into the system.

"If I changed job a day earlier I would be eligible. It seems a bit unfair."

'I've moved in with grandma'

Image source, Chelsea Metcalfe
Image caption,
Chelsea Metcalfe was due to start a new career as a veterinary nurse, but her life has been put on hold

For Chelsea Metcalfe, the future looked bright.

The former charity worker was due to start her "dream job" on Monday as a veterinary nurse and was also expecting to move into her own flat.

Instead, with the surgery's hours reduced to emergency appointments only, she has had to take unpaid leave - although her role will be kept open.

After finding herself unable to commit to paying rent, she has had to move into temporary accommodation with her grandmother in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.

The 25-year-old said: "Now I've got no security of a job or income and I'm not getting any help from the government.

"For people who've paid their taxes and national insurance all their life, it makes you feel like you're not supported at all."

Some MPs have suggested those who have fallen through the financial support crack should sign up for Universal Credit or try to find work in supermarkets - although the latter choice is not open to everyone.

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Ms Metcalfe said her 84-year-old grandmother has a number of underlying health conditions, adding: "I can't risk working in a supermarket because it could make my grandma really ill."

'My old boss will furlough me'

Image source, Debbie Rice
Image caption,
Debbie Rice with her husband Colin and son Oliver

Some new starters have been advised by MPs to return to their former employers to ask if they can offer support.

Debbie Rice was in exactly that position.

The 32-year-old started a new administrative job on 3 March, but the company then began furloughing staff.

She said: "My current employer felt guilty they couldn't pay me or give me the 80% furlough.

"I was the only person who was a new starter, so I was the only one who didn't qualify to be furloughed."

Luckily, Mrs Rice found support from her former boss who had been looking into furloughing her prior to her departure.

"I was lucky," she said. "The position I'm in is rare. To ask people to go back to their old employers is tough.

"For so many people they've had a negative reaction going back to their old employers."

'I'm campaigning for change'

Image source, Natalie Greenway
Image caption,
Natalie Greenway said she was not eligible for benefits like jobseeker's allowance

Natalie Greenway from Burbage in Leicestershire, cannot be furloughed by her current employer as she started a new job on 16 March.

The 24-year-old is one of a group of people who are campaigning on social media to get the government's job retention scheme cut-off date amended.

"The group is growing exponentially," she said.

Nearly 4,000 people belong to a Facebook group on the topic and thousands are Tweeting their experiences under the hashtag #newstarterfurlough.

Ms Greenway, who moderates the group, said hundreds of people were writing to their MPs appealing for help.

"I've had messages that are harrowing, that are hard to read," she said.

"I've had messages from people who don't know how they're going to feed their kids.

"The government isn't listening and the blanket statement that some people are always going to lose out isn't good enough."

A government spokesman said: "[The scheme] allows for those who were on the payroll of a company on 28 February but subsequently left to be put back on payroll and furloughed.

"This includes those who have resigned to start a new job after 28 February.

"Decisions around whether to offer to furlough someone are down to the individual company."

The Treasury said previously: "Firms can re-employ staff made redundant after 1 March 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, £1bn more support for renters and access to three-month mortgage holidays."

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