Employers claiming furlough up by more than 100,000 in January

Figures underline the impact of Covid restrictions imposed that month in UK

The number of employers claiming furlough support jumped by more than 100,000 in January as the third UK lockdown took hold.

According to official data published by the Treasury, 858,269 companies and traders drew on the coronavirus job retention scheme for their January payroll, compared with 752,468 in December.

The figures underline the dramatic impact of nationwide restrictions imposed by the government on 5 January 2021, when the UK was in the grip of a surge in coronavirus cases and deaths.

The pub chains JD Wetherspoon and Mitchells & Butlers, two of the biggest employers in the hard-hit pub sector, remained the largest claimants in January, each taking between £25m and £50m of support to pay furloughed staff.

A host of businesses significantly increased the scale of their claims as the national lockdown came into effect.

TJX UK, which owns the retailer TK Maxx, moved from a band of between £1.5m and £2.5m to between £10m and £25m.

A clutch of companies increased their claims on the scheme, which pays up to 80% of staff wages, from a range of £1m to £2.5m to between £5m and £10m.

They include the retailers Sports Direct, Arcadia, H&M, New Look, Next and JD Sports, the gym groups David Lloyd Leisure and Nuffield Health, and the bookmakers Ladbrokes and Betfred.

Other businesses that significantly increased their claims include Stonegate Pub Company, Marks & Spencer, the logistics firm DHL, the tour operator Jet2 and the contract caterer Compass.

Details of companies tapping the scheme were released shortly after the Treasury said separately that 4.7 million people were furloughed by the end of January, a rise of 700,000 from the beginning of the month.

In this month’s budget, the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced an extension of the furlough scheme until the end of September – albeit with employers asked to increase their contributions from July. The total cost of the scheme is projected to reach almost £66bn.

The Guardian revealed last week that as well as major employers, furlough claimants included companies owned by Saudi royals, tax exiles, Gulf petrostates and billionaires.

The new disclosures have been updated to reflect companies that have paid furlough support back since the last data was published, or who stopped claiming support in January.

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Only two of the companies named by the Guardian stopped claiming in January. They are SUSD Asset Management, owned by the Tory donor Lord Ashcroft, and Arconic Manufacturing (GB), owned by the firm that made the cladding for Grenfell Tower.

The remainder either continued to tap government funds or significantly increased their claims despite criticism from MPs at the use of public funds.

This month it emerged that about 125,000 employers had returned £700m of furlough support. They include Ikea, Serco, William Hill and the housebuilders Redrow, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey.

The government began publishing the names of furlough recipients in January after changing the law in a transparency drive intended to help crack down on fraudulent claims. Any claims made before December 2020 are not public.

The Treasury said data for February would not be released until May.


Rob Davies

The GuardianTramp

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