The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) portal opened on Monday (20 April 2020) and so 5 days in, we caught up with Lisa Greenwood our Head of Payroll, to find out how things have been going.

Since the lockdown commenced, Lisa has been working closely with our Payroll team, learning firstly about furloughing and then dealing with client queries on the subject whilst trying to anticipate what information the portal would need and how this would be extracted from the software.

As expected, much of this was kept under wraps until the final moments, probably so that organisations keen to perpetrate fraud didn’t get the heads up early and an opportunity to work their magic come opening day.

So Lisa, what has been our biggest challenge?

“The manual entry of information is certainly the worst area together with the extraction of the correct data from the payroll software, made complicated from the treatment of Employers NI and Pension. We have worked on this and generated reports by which we can get the information we need out into a spreadsheet which with further manipulation, allows a cut and paste approach. Even with this shortcut, entry takes time and we have heard of Firms who have either been timed-out or have the system crash on them mid-entry which has meant a reboot and start again.  Not fun if this happens after entering the data for 50 or 60 employees.

Sadly, from the outset it feels like the system has not been considered from a payroll bureau perspective who could have 200 claims ranging from 1 employee to 50+ payrolls.  The automatic upload facility is only for 100 plus employee claims, whereas this should be open for all to use. You can only enter the data using an online PAYE account linked directly to the Employer, yet the 2nd question in asks you to type the name of the employer – why?  Overall, it is a laborious process and entering each individual’s personal details represents opportunities for error. We suspect that these things will get picked up for some by a delay in payment. Our copy and paste regime hopefully adds some control, but time will tell and thankfully we work with two monitors to help this process.

At Lambert Chapman, we have operated annual payrolls for the smallest clients, particularly husband and wife payrolls, in essence for cost purposes for those businesses, but this has caused a few problems which we expect will get sorted by HM Revenue & Customs making an amendment to the system. Essentially if there is not a FPS filed for the tax year 2019/20 by February 2020, the system doesn’t like you and so for the businesses that had their annual payroll run in March 2020 which is a normal event, there has been a hiccup.

From reviewing message boards and forums this is a problem that everyone else is experiencing and we find that many bureaus operate as we do with annual schemes. Similarly, if your last FPS before 19 March showed 6 employees, you cannot make a claim for more than that number. In many cases this wouldn’t be a problem – but there are circumstances in which this can be correct. (Especially where those previously laid off are now allowed to be furloughed). The system is therefore intuitive in that for fraud purposes, it resists those trying to increase the workforce incorrectly to benefit.

Entering bank details is also unnecessarily taking time. The information requested is sort code, account number and post code for the branch. Sort code and account number provide little difficulty but the post code isn’t as straightforward. We are using a sort code checker and this provides a branch but the post code connected to that will not always get accepted straight away as many banks don’t have an address connected.  I can think of no logical reason why the post code would be needed.

Other than time, each case is taking at least an additional hour or more to process, is the sheer volume. We thought we might have around 100 cases where staff would be furloughed, but having run most of our April payrolls – including the annuals which we have changed to monthly for the coming year – the number has increased to around 200 which is nearly 50% of our bureau.

The claim process which some clients have pressed ahead to do themselves is prone to errors as many don’t understand some of the pitfalls.  My first two calls of the day on 22nd April from clients that had completed their own claims ,identified errors in the claim being made, I don’t think they will be alone.  Firstly, for most clients with April pay-runs you can’t claim the Employers NIC if you have claimed the employment allowance.  The next issue is that most clients started their furlough periods part-way through a pay period and therefore the Employers NI and Pension have to be recalculated to avoid over claiming.  In most cases, this is a manual process as many of the software providers reports can not deal with this scenario.  It’s not a surprise to me we are now being asked to deal with the claims instead as it is by no means straightforward, despite the press releases indicating otherwise”.

So how are we coping 5 days in?

“The girls supporting the payroll team with claim processing including extracting the data have all worked incredibly hard this week together with the payroll team themselves.  These are unprecedented times and whilst the current position could not have been planned, introduction of furloughing and the portal in the last week of the month which is the busiest for any payroll bureau, has been very challenging.  So far we have submitted 76 claims (143 as at 29 April) but I expect the remainder to flow through early next week with additional resource in the inputting team starting on Monday.

Claims will begin to be paid from 30 April so please be patient with us whilst this, the most difficult month, is inputted”. 

If you need any support or assistance, please continue to get in touch with us. 

The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the Author and other professionals may express different views. They may not be the views of Lambert Chapman LLP. The material in the article cannot and should not be considered as exhaustive. Professional advice should be sought in connection with any of the issues contained in the article and the implementation of any actions.

Lambert Chapman Chartered Accountants

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