UK Companies rush to furlough staff and receive state aid before their cash runs out

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More than two thirds of UK companies have already furloughed their workers and many are fast running out of cash, according to a survey tracking the impact of coronavirus on businesses.

The British Chambers of Commerce found that 71 per cent had temporarily laid off workers, up from 63 per cent last week, according to the trade body’s Covid-19 Business Impact Tracker.

Businesses are seeking state support through the job retention scheme, which will pay furloughed workers 80 per cent of their usual monthly wage, capped at £2,500. The programme received applications for 67,000 workers within 30 minutes of going live on Monday. More than 140,000 applications were made that day.

According to the BCC poll of 678 businesses carried out between April 15 and April 17, only 28 per cent have yet to use of the scheme. The BCC said it was critical that it delivered without delays, particularly as businesses were running out of cash. Nearly 66 per cent said that they had enough reserves to last them only three months.

The government’s claims portal is able to process 450,000 applications per hour and so far has coped well with the volume of traffic, but the true test will be the speed with which the grants are paid. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has promised payment within six days.

Adam Marshall, director-general of the BCC, said: “This is a crunch week for businesses relying on the job retention scheme to pay their staff. It is now critical that payments from the furlough scheme reach businesses as smoothly and as quickly as possible”

The scheme has been extended to the end of June, but the BCC said that it ought to go further. “Ministers will also need to consider keeping the scheme in place for longer, to help businesses to transition as the lockdown is eased and as the economy moves gradually toward a new normal,” it said.