Covid-19: Three tier lockdown and extension to the Job Support Scheme

The Prime Minister has formally unveiled plans for a new three tier system for implementing local lockdowns restrictions across England. The system uses three levels which are ‘Medium’, ‘High’ and ‘Very High’ to determine the measures to be imposed in certain areas. Most areas are at medium level and those who are currently facing local lockdown restrictions will be classed as high. Liverpool will be the first area to be regarded as Very High. The new system will start from tomorrow (Wednesday 14 October). You can check the rules in your area on the government website or on the NHS Covid-19 App.

Medium: rule of 6 applies both indoors and outdoors, 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants.

High: 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants, no household mixing indoors and rule of 6 applies outdoors (public and private spaces).

Very high: Households cannot mix indoors or outdoors and pubs and bars must close (enhanced restrictions may be imposed by the local authority on businesses such as gyms, leisure centres, betting shops and casinos).

Employers should be reminded that for those businesses not required to close the government advice remains that staff should work from home if they can.

On Friday, the Chancellor announced plans to extend the Job Support Scheme (JSS) which will come into effect from 1 November. As a reminder, the JSS will (subject to certain criteria) allow an employer to claim one third of an employee’s unpaid wages from the government. One of the criteria for JSS is that the employee has to work and be paid for at least one third of their normal working hours. Consequently, the scheme would not benefit those business that have to close because of tier three restrictions.

The extension of the JSS will offer additional support to businesses who have had to close due to coronavirus restrictions. It is therefore intended to target employers who are subject to ‘Very high’ lockdown restrictions. In these circumstances, the government will pay up to two thirds of an employee’s wages, up to a maximum of £2,100 per month. According to government guidance, the employer will not be expected to contribute toward wages but will have to cover National Insurance and pension contributions.

Cash grants for as much as £3,000 per month will also be available for businesses required to close in local lockdowns.

We are waiting for the government to release further guidance about the Job Support Scheme but in the meantime we would suggest that any employer who might need to rely on the JSS scheme reviews its business plan and staffing requirements for the next six months. Any employee placed on the JSS will require an amendment to their contract of employment, similar to the furlough scheme arrangements earlier in the year.

If you have any questions or need any advice about how to navigate the restrictions or support in place, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our employment law team.