Coronavirus Response Phase Two – Training and Apprenticeships Update
Key contact: Claire Knowles
The threat of Coronavirus has caused many to put their career ambitions on hold for the time. Apprentices and professional trainees have found themselves in a particularly uncomfortable position but employees with low workflow, or have been placed on furlough leave, may be experiencing similar anxieties. Taking advantage of training and professional development opportunities is a great way to stay on top during this period of uncertainty. However, as we enter phase two of the Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, businesses should be aware of changes to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’s (the Scheme) training rules and the announcement of further apprentice support schemes.
Training During Furlough Leave
Firstly, it is important to emphasise that training is encouraged during periods of furlough leave, not just in our opinion but also under the current gov.uk guidance. Since employees cannot work during furlough leave anyway, everybody wins where they use some of that time to continue their professional development.
Under the original scheme (up to 1 July) employees on furlough leave could engage with training/ study with relatively few restrictions. The government was likely of the understanding that, as the employee could not ‘work’ for at least 3 weeks while on furlough leave, there was little risk of employers abusing the Scheme simply to train their employees/apprentices. However, since the introduction of the flexible furlough scheme on 1 July, the position has become stricter to discourage employers from wrongfully claiming for a period where the business was, in fact, profiting.
This shift in approach is notable in paragraph 36.2 of HM Treasury’s flexible furlough scheme direction to HMRC, dated 25 June. The general rule is now that an employee will not be considered to have ceased all work while pursuing training or study for the purpose of improving their effectiveness in the employer’s business, or improving the business’ performance itself. This rule is very broad as most training will lead to some degree of personal improvement which could then benefit the business. Fortunately, the direction then backtracks with the following exception:
Training (and study) may take place where the training improves the employee’s effectiveness, or the employer’s business, in general terms and:
- The training does not directly provide a service to the business;
- The training does not generate income for the business;
- The training does not produce goods for sale or use in a service; or
- The training does not provide service for remuneration.
On this basis, apprentices and other furloughed employees can continue to train but employers cannot claim for time where that training involves a double profit for the business. When evaluating this issue we would recommend keeping records of the company’s reasons for justifying its decision.
Government guidance has shown concern from the start that illness, caring responsibilities, and operational disruptions will impact training and assessment schedules. Continuity through e-learning and remote assessments has been encouraged, however, it is recognised that this is not possible for all apprenticeships. Recent updates have permitted a slow return to face-to-face, on-site training delivery for those apprentices who need to train in an education setting. One quarter of 16 to 19-year-old apprentices in the first year of their programme may be permitted to return and from 13 July apprentices of 19 years and above can return subject to safety measures arranged by the training provider.
Apprentice status may add some additional complexities to the employment relationship, especially when it comes to furlough leave and dismissals. Apprenticeships may take ‘breaks’ which only need to be reported when they exceed a 4-week period. They can, therefore, be placed on furlough leave in the same way as any other employee but the employer will have to report if the apprentice is out of work and training for longer periods.
With the introduction of the flexible furlough scheme it has become a lot easier for employers to maintain regular contact and training with their apprentices. Training providers also temporarily have the option available to them to initiate breaks in learning, using the ‘pause’ facility in the apprenticeship service, allowing for greater control when utilising the Scheme.
Where redundancy is necessary, the training provider may use the ‘stop’ facility in the apprenticeship service but must assist the apprentice in finding a suitable alternative placement to continue their training within a 12-week period. There are additional considerations and complexities employers will need to navigate when considering making apprentices redundant. For further advice please contact our employment team.
In his ‘plan for jobs’ summer statement, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak announced further apprentice support as part of the ‘Boosting worksearch, skills and apprenticeships’ pledge which will reward employers for taking on apprentices. Companies that take on apprentices from 1 August can now get a payment of £2000 per apprentice, though this grant will be reduced to £1500 if the apprentice is 25 or older. This bonus is only available until 31 January 2021 but is redeemable in addition to existing £1,000 entitlements for new 16 to 18 year-old apprentices, and those aged under 25 with an Education, Health and Care Plan. A similar scheme is being introduced for 16 to 24 year-olds embarking on traineeships in England, expanding the eligibility criteria for school-leavers and granting payments of £1,000 per trainee to employers who provide work experience.
For those apprentices currently facing redundancy and financial difficulty, the government have announced a package of support which will provide funding to training providers who continue training redundant apprentices. Where an apprentice is made redundant at least six months’ from their final day of training, the training provider may be able to access funding for up to 12 weeks’ worth of further training. Where the apprentice is made redundant within these last six months the training provider may be able to access funds to cover the full remaining costs of the training. The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that apprentices may also claim Universal Credit on being made redundant, provided they satisfy the eligibility criteria.
For further advice on training your employees, managing apprentices, or seeking government support, please contact our employment and immigration team.
Claire Knowles – Partner
Mark Alaszewski – Associate
Rebecca Mahon – Solicitor
Adam McGlynn – Trainee Solicitor