A woman who recently landed a new job with better career prospects and a higher wage has found herself with zero income since the coronavirus lockdown.
Jaimelee Rattray, an experienced legal PA from Glasgow, is one of many workers caught in a web of financial hardship due to not qualifying for the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme or universal credit.
She said: “The situation is desperate. I’ve fallen into this strange limbo where I don’t have any way of receiving any income.
“I don’t think I’ve felt more anxious than I do currently, it fills me with dread and it’s a position that no one wants to find themselves in.”
To qualify for the furlough system under the current UK Government coronavirus Job Retention Scheme employees need to have been on a company payroll on or before March 19.
Those that fall after the cut-off date can be entitled to wage grants if their former boss agrees to re-employ them.
Jaimelee missed the deadline date by a few days and has since asked her previous employer three times to help, but has been rejected each time.
“I have pleaded with them three times and every time they have said no.
“I didn’t leave my job on bad terms. I worked there for three years and left because I was offered a new position at a company that would better my career prospects.
“I got lovely messages from colleagues saying they’ll miss me when I did leave.
“I went to the finance director after the guidelines were updated saying you could be re-hired and I was just told ‘the answer is no’ and ‘we will not communicate with you any further.
“I didn’t expect them to play this hand. Companies are given the choice, so you are at their mercy, unfortunately.”
Jaimelee has asthma and falls under the current ‘shielding guidance’ which suggests she should protect herself as much as possible.
She is entitled to statutory sick pay given her condition, but needs to be working in order to apply for it.
“It’s something my former company could help with,” she added,
“They could re-hire me and put me on sick leave or the furlough system but they won’t.”
Unable to claim benefits
Jaimelee does not qualify for universal credit because her partner, who works in the police force, still earns a salary.
“The general consensus from others I have spoken to who are really struggling is to lie and get on the benefit system, but I just can’t do that.
“I have never been out of work since I left school and it’s a very unsettling feeling.”
The concerned Scot is also unable to apply for a jobseeker’s allowance because she signed a contract for her new job.
It was meant to start on March 30, but due to the pandemic, her start date has been deferred until June 26.
“At the moment things really aren’t looking great.
“My usual pay day is April 25. I have been told that if things go to plan I am due to start my new job on June 26, which means I won’t get my first salary until July 26, and I know I am not the worst off.
“You work out what you can afford based on your income. Suddenly when you don’t have that, you’re faced with bills that don’t match, mortgages that seem steep. We are going to have to tighten the reins a lot.
“I’ve spoken to some people who say their monthly outgoings are about £800, but the Universal Credit system only pays £400. Where are they going to get that extra money from? So it’s not like the benefit system even solves the issue.”
Jaimelee said she’s concerned her future role is not guaranteed given the current uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
“I didn’t know this was going to happen. I chose to change job because I felt ready to further my experience, and I feel like I’m being penalised by the system just for wanting to better myself.
“I have worked my way up and it’s just difficult seeing it all stop in a way that’s completely out of your control. It can take a long time and a lot of hard work to get to where you want to be so it’s frustrating.”
Jaimelee is part of an online movement called New Starter Furlough, a Facebook group set up to urge the government to amend an employee’s eligibility for the coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
The group is pushing for the guidelines to include new starters that were not on payroll with their new company on February 28, but had a contractual commitment with them.
In a statement it said: “The government must implement a system whereby between you and your new employer, you can prove that a contract has begun or was arranged to commence, prior to the announcement of this lockdown. The particulars of that contract must then be eligible for the same support as those who have been with the company for longer.”
The group has almost 8,000 members who find themselves in a similar situation to Jaimelee.
MP fighting for better furlough system
Ian Blackford, MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber has been vocal on social media about the current furlough guidelines saying they are “simply not good enough.”
In a statement he said: “The announcement on retention is not what it is cracked up to be: Employers can claim for furloughed employees that were employed and on their PAYE payroll on or before 19 March.
“This means that the employee must have been notified to HMRC through RTI system on or before 19 March.
“That means a job offer in itself will not suffice, HMRC will have to have been notified that the worker is on the payroll which many employers will not have done although the employee would have a valid job offer.
“This is simply not good enough.”
Current UK Government guidelines
On the UK Government website the furlough guidelines read: “You can only claim for furloughed employees that were on your PAYE payroll on or before 19 March 2020 and which were notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 19 March 2020.
“This means an RTI submission notifying payment in respect of that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 19 March 2020.
“Employees that were employed as of 28 February 2020 and on payroll (i.e. notified to HMRC on an RTI submission on or before 28 February) and were made redundant or stopped working for the employer after that and prior to 19 March 2020, can also qualify for the scheme if the employer re-employs them and puts them on furlough.
“If you made employees redundant, or they stopped working for you on or after 28 February 2020, you can re-employ them, put them on furlough and claim for their wages through the scheme.
For full guidelines visit here.