The coronavirus crisis has sadly seen more than 15,000 people who tested positive for COVID-19 in the UK die, with the global death toll now exceeding 150,000. Not only having an impact on health, with the UK in lockdown in order to slow the spread of the virus, the epidemic is also affecting personal finances.
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In a bid to help support the population during the unprecedented times, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced a number of emergency measures last month.
This includes the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which means employers can furlough employees and apply for a grant to cover 80 percent of their usual monthly costs, up to #2,500 per month.
The temporary scheme starts from March 1, and currently last until the end of June.
However, father-of-three Lee Sapphire has been left devastated, after finding out he does not qualify for the scheme.
Mr Sapphire, 46, who works in technology support sales, left his job on February 28 this year, to begin a new role at the start of March.
Things were going well in his new job, but sadly, at the end of March, he was told that his job would be terminated immediately due to the coronavirus crisis, as he was not eligible to be furloughed by his employer.
It came as a big shock.
Mr Sapphire had been unaware of the cut-off date for the scheme, until he was told that his new employer would have to let him go.
“My stomach turned over and I felt that my whole world fell apart,” he says of finding out about the loophole, during an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk.
“First thing I thought was, ‘My God, what am I going to do?”
Initially, in addition to being enrolled for PAYE online and having a UK bank account, PAYE employees would need to be on the pay roll on February 28 in order to qualify – something which Mr Sapphire had not been for his new employer.
An amendment to the scheme was announced this week, meaning this particular requirement has changed, and now, a PAYE payroll scheme must have been created and started on or before March 19, 2020.
Despite the amendment to the date, Mr Sapphire is among many who are still in the same situation as before.
It’s something which Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis addressed this week.
Speaking to Channel 4, he said: “To count to get furlough, they had to have been on a feed that went to HMRC before the 19th of March.
“All those paid monthly, which is 80 percent of people, your company will not have sent its RTI feed to the Revenue by the 19th of March.
“I think certainly there will still be over 100,000 people who will not be helped by this, easily.”
Following some uncertainty, HM Treasury confirmed that employees who left their former employer voluntarily could be reinstated in order to be furloughed, provided the reason they need this is due to the crisis.
On April 2, a government spokesperson said: “The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is aimed at those who would otherwise be unemployed as a result of coronavirus.
“It allows for those who were on the payroll of a company on February 28 but subsequently left to be put back on payroll and furloughed.
“Decisions around whether to offer to furlough someone are down to the individual company.”
However, returning to a former employer in the hopes of this isn’t always an option, as Mr Sapphire pointed out.
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He says of his most recent employer: “They’re really good people and it’s not their fault.
“I don’t blame my company because if they could, they would [furlough me], and I know they would, because why wouldn’t they?”
Mr Sapphire, 46, has been in full-time employment for many years, and his wife is a key worker at the local primary school.
The father-of-three, who lives in Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge & Ruislip, said: “We’re good, wholesome, law-abiding, reasonable people. We’ve done nothing wrong and feel utterly utterly devastated and let down by Rishi and Boris who are forgetting about people like me.“
After finding the news, Mr Sapphire has discovered an “astounding” number of people on social media who have been affected by the loophole.
“It’s unbelievable how many people’s worlds have fallen apart,” he says. “People are petrified right now, and experiencing such distress, and worry and fear for no reason of their own.
“They’ve done nothing wrong. I feel so sorry for so many people.”
Mr Sapphire is worried about telling his children what’s happened, not wanting to cause them distress and worry.
But, he fears for how his family will get through this. “I’m going to lose everything unless they put this right,” he says.
“I think the way to put this right, the solution should be, give everyone a chance to submit their case and be considered to be furloughed through whatever means.
“I think through their current employer would be the way to do it, and if not the Government should have a separate way to help people. Because how can they leave so many people out in the cold?”
The couple have rent and bills to pay, as well as living costs for the whole family to cover.
“They’re all growing children that eat lots I’ve got their mouths to feed. It’s very difficult,” he says.
Mr Sapphire isn’t sure whether he’ll be eligible for Universal Credit, leaving them with just his wife’s income from her role as a Teaching Assistant.
Facing a paycut via the furlough scheme would have been tough, and should the family be able to get Universal Credit, he’s calculated that they’d get even less.
“It would be incredibly difficult, even if I was on furlough, but I would survive. That’s the key thing, I would survive and so would so many others,” he says.
“I’ve looked into what the help is likely to be and there’s no way on earth that I would be able to survive. My whole life would fall apart and I would lose everything that I’ve built up over the years.“
“We didn’t know this was coming,” he adds.
“I’m still waiting to wake up from this nightmare, because I can’t believe this is real.“
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