Move to Level 5

On 19 October 2020, it was announced that Ireland would move to Level 5 of the Government’s Plan for Living with COVID-19 for a period of six weeks from midnight on 21 October 2020.  A small number of exceptions to Level 5 as set out in the Plan will also be implemented.

As a result, all workers must work from home unless providing an essential service for which their physical presence is required. A list of essential services under Level 5 is available here and includes the operation of essential retail outlets. A list of essential retail outlets under Level 5 is available here.

Fines will be introduced for people who travel beyond 5 kilometres from their home with exceptions for those travelling for essential work or essential purposes. Public transport will operate at 25% capacity for the purposes of allowing those providing essential services to get to work. Employers should bear this in mind and consider introducing flexible start and finish times if necessary for workers reliant on public transport.

Significantly from the point of view of employees being available to work, schools, early learning and childcare services will continue to remain open and are deemed essential. This is a key difference between Level 5 under the Plan and earlier similar COVID-19 restrictions implemented back in March.

Change to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (“PUP”)

In recognition of the significant impact the Government restrictions will have on job losses, a new payment structure was announced for the PUP, with the weekly rate of €350 being restored to those who were previously earning in excess of €400 per week. On that basis, from 27 October 2020, the following PUP rates will be paid to all existing and new applicants:

Prior Weekly Earnings (Gross) PUP Payment
< €200 €203
€200 – €299.99 €250
€300 – €399.99 €300
>  €400 €350

Currently, the PUP is due to close to all new applicants after 31 December 2020 and is scheduled to run until 31 March 2021.

As part of Budget 2021, it was announced on 13 October 2020, that self-employed recipients of the PUP will be able to earn up to €480 per month without losing their entitlement to the payment.  In addition, the one-week Christmas bonus will be given this year to people on a welfare payment for four months up to December, including those in receipt of the PUP.

Change to the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (“EWSS”)

The EWSS has been operating since 1 September 2020, and replaced the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme.  The EWSS has two key elements:

  1. It provides a flat-rate subsidy to qualifying employers based on the numbers of paid and eligible employees on the employer’s payroll; and
  2. It charges a reduced rate of employer PRSI of 0.5% on wages paid to eligible employees.

The Government announced that the EWSS is being amended to align with the amendment to PUP. As a result there will be five payment rates as follows:

Gross Weekly Pay Subsidy
0 – €151 €0
>€151 < €203 €203
>€203 < €300 €250
>€300 < €400 *€300
>€400< €1,462 *€350

*new rates following Government announcement on 19 October 2020

These revised rates will run until 31 January 2021.  The main aim of the EWSS is to ensure where possible that employees retain their link with their employer rather than being made redundant.

When the EWSS was first announced as part of the July Stimulus package, it was to run until 31 March 2021.  As part of Budget 2021, the Government confirmed that from 1 April 2021, the EWSS will in fact be replaced by a variant of the scheme.  No further details are currently available but it was certainly some welcome news for employers.  Revenue guidelines on the EWSS are available here but at the time of writing have not yet been updated to reflect the latest Government announcements.

A new support announced as part of Budget 2021, the COVID Restrictions Support Scheme (“CRSS”), is intended as an additional support for businesses subject to significant COVID-19 restrictions and can operate alongside the EWSS. Where as a result of the restrictions, a business has been required to temporarily shut their premises or operate at significantly reduced levels, with the result that turnover for that period will be no more than 20% of the average weekly turnover for a period equal to the same number of weeks in 2019 (or using 2020 turnover figures for new businesses), that business will qualify for the CRSS.  The scheme has been operating since 13 October 2020, and qualifying businesses can apply to Revenue for a weekly cash payment of up to €5,000. Further detail is available from Revenue here.

Our briefing on the Government’s Plan for Living with COVID-19 is available here.  The above summary is not intended as legal advice.  Given the continuing evolving nature of COVID-19 restrictions and supports, readers are advised to continue to check official Government sources for the most up to date information and to contact their legal advisors if necessary.