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Can my apprentices continue learning while on furlough leave?

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Many business are struggling to keep all of their employees, including their apprentices, working at present due to the coronavirus outbreak. As such, businesses have placed many individuals on furlough leave. Our Employment Law team here reviews how employers can ensure that the apprentices who have been furloughed can continue the training part of their apprenticeship without having to extend the apprenticeship length, and what you should be paying your apprentices for any period of learning which they undertake.

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - Impact on Apprenticeships

As a result of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) apprentices can be ‘furloughed’ rather than being dismissed or laid off. This is much the same as other employees within your business. If you were to place an apprentice on furlough leave, they remain on your payroll and continue to accrue continuous service and annual leave. HMRC will reimburse 80% of the furloughed apprentice’s wage costs (capped at £2,500 per month) plus your National Insurance contributions and minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions on that wage. Any apprentice who has been placed on furlough leave will not be able to carry out any duties for you which generate revenue in accordance with the scheme rules.

The Department for Education and the Education and Skills Funding Agency have confirmed that although apprentices who have been furloughed cannot perform work duties, they can however continue their training if it does not generate revenue or provide a service for you.

Pay for training undertaken during furlough leave

The Government has confirmed you must pay apprentices at least one of the following for the time apprentices spend on training during furlough leave:

  • the Apprenticeship Minimum Wage;
  • National Living Wage; or
  • National Minimum Wage according to age.

This means you must cover any shortfall between the amount you can claim for the apprentice’s wages through the CJRS and the apprentice’s appropriate minimum wage. You must effectively “top up” the apprentices wage to ensure you are meeting the relevant National Minimum Wage contributions for the time your apprentices spend on training. This “top up” will not be recoverable under the CJRS.

Is training during furlough leave necessary?  

Training providers have been asked to provide learning and end-point assessments remotely if possible. Where learners cannot complete their end-point assessments because of the Coronavirus, the assessments could be rescheduled and their assessment time frame extended.

This is an opportunity for apprentices to progress towards the 20% off-the-job minimum requirement as it’s something many apprentices find difficult to meet when combined with the demands of working life. It means that when apprentices return to work, they will be ahead of their off-the-job target and can spend more time working.

Extension of Apprenticeship

If the apprentice cannot undergo training or complete their assessment then you should extend the apprenticeship for as long as needed for the apprentice to complete the training element of the apprenticeship. Normally you cannot vary the Apprenticeship Agreement which has already been signed. However, you may do so where there is a necessary administrative change to be made. It is likely that an extension due to being unable to undertake training will amount to an administrative change given the circumstances. In making any changes to the Apprenticeship Agreement you will need to consult and seek agreement from the apprentice before being able to make such a change.

Businesses and training providers can now report and initiate a “break in learning” where the interruption to the apprentice’s learning is for more than four weeks. Normally, this would be the responsibility of the apprentice. This means that training providers will stop receiving funding for the duration of the break. If the break is less than four weeks, the end of the apprenticeship will remain the same and funding will continue to be paid.

Where some training was delivered at the beginning of March, employers have been told not to use the apprenticeship service to pause or stop payments to the training provider. This is because the training provider would not receive any payment for the training already delivered.

We understand that you may be struggling to keep up in this fast-changing environment but it is important to ensure you keep a record of all changes made to apprenticeship agreements and any necessary breaks in an apprentice’s training. Not doing so could mean that your apprentice benefits from enhanced rights on termination and could be costly for you as a business. If you have any questions for our Employment team about your apprentices or making changes to their Apprenticeship Agreements, you can contact the team on 023 8071 7717 or email employment@warnergoodman.co.uk.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.