Tougher national measures came into effect from 5 November to contain the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Croner-i examines what this means for operators

On 31 October, the government announced that tougher national measures needed to come into effect to contain the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and placed England into severe lockdown measures from 5 November.

As a result, the Treasury’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) has been extended, at first for the month of November and then, following a statement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, until March 2021.

The Job Support Scheme, which was intended to replace the furlough scheme from 1 November, has been postponed until further notice. In addition, the government will not pay the Job Retention Bonus in February, as previously announced, but instead redeploy a retention incentive ‘at the right time’. News that the furlough scheme has been extended will have been welcomed by many transport operators, employers and employees who may have fallen through the gaps presented by the postponed Job Support Scheme.

This is a fast-moving and complex situation. As we have seen several times in recent months, the rules can, and do, change very quickly. Croner-i Passenger Transport brings together the most-up-to-date information on both schemes as soon as it becomes available.

Help available for businesses

The furlough scheme has been extended during this lockdown period and then into 2021 with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked, up to a maximum of £2500.

Under the extended scheme, which now runs until March, the cost for employers of retaining workers will be reduced, with the Treasury explaining that: “It means the extended furlough scheme is more generous for employers than it was in October”.

Businesses will have flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part-time basis or furlough them full time and will be asked to cover National Insurance contributions and pension contributions only for the hours the employee does not work.

For the average claim, these contributions account for just 5% of total employment costs.

All employers with a UK bank account and UK PAYE schemes can claim the grant. Neither the employer nor the employee needs to have previously used the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

However, it must be noted that, to be eligible to be claimed for under this extension, employees must have been on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59hrs on 30 October 2020. This means a Real Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment for that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before that date.

In addition, business premises forced to close in England are to receive grants worth up to £3000 per month under the Local Restrictions Support Grant.

A further £1.1bn is being given to local authorities, distributed on the basis of £20 per head, for one-off payments to enable them to support businesses more broadly.

Further details are expected from the government, including guidance on how to claim this extended support through an updated claims service.

Croner-i comment

Although the national lockdown in England is slightly less strict than it was back in March, notably with schools, colleges and universities remaining open, the impact on travel and businesses will be the same as the population and thousands of employers will now need to shut their doors under government instruction for the second time.

Employers need to be aware that more flexibility has been built into the rules. Employers can use furlough for the first time and can furlough employees who have not been furloughed before provided they began working and had been paid at least once, by 30 October. No employer contribution to wages is needed for unworked hours; grants will be set at 80% of wages to a maximum of £2500 per person per month which means that wage assistance has increased.

In this fast-moving crisis, the regulations underpinning the lockdown have just been published as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No 4) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1200). This document includes details of all the premises which will have to close and gives exemptions where people will be allowed to travel (such as visiting family members in prison). The main restriction affecting passenger transport is that people must only make essential journeys, defined as, for example, to go to work, to attend medical appointments or for essential shopping. We will continue to update the information in Croner-i as it becomes available.

Note that the wearing of face coverings on passenger transport services is covered by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings on Public Transport (England) Regulations SI 592 as amended, and in Scotland by the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Restrictions and Requirements, SSI 2020/344. For Wales, the rules are set out in the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No 2) (Wales) (Amendment) (No 2) Regulations 2020 (WSI 2020/803). Croner-i Passenger Transport summarises the relevant legislation in the Legislation Tracker.

Also this month – improving the quality of information for passengers

This is a message to bus operators and local authorities. You are reminded of new powers under the Bus Services Act 2017 that make it a requirement for you to publish route, timetable and location (real time) data openly by 31 December 2020. Data must be published through the Department for Transport’s (DfT’s) Bus Open Data Digital Service.

Any organisations publishing data on their own websites and providing it through a URL must ensure that appropriate data hosting is in place and linked to the Bus Open Data Digital Service (BODDS) system. Operators and local transport authorities with franchising in place, or with municipal bus companies, must publish data for their local bus services in England, outside London. Operators must register for an account on the BODDS system and the published data must be uploaded to BODDS using TXC files, which are created using specialist software or may be available through your local authority.

The process for publishing open data in respect of new or varied services will be aligned to the application process to the Traffic Commissioner. It is a requirement to remove data for withdrawn services at the time they are withdrawn. Operators are allowed to use an agent to generate data on their behalf, but the ultimate responsibility to publish the generated data lies with the operator. After 31 December 2020, the Traffic Commissioner will be empowered to take enforcement action against operators who fail to provide open data without reasonable excuse.

Requirements to publish basic fares and location data will come into effect from 7 January 2021. The information is covered in detail in the Bus Services Act in Croner-i Passenger Transport and go to DfT’s Bus Open Data Implementation Guide.