A Government scheme to support businesses and help safeguard jobs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic received 67,000 claims in the first 30 minutes of launch, according to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
The coronavirus job retention scheme went live on Monday with businesses able to claim towards staff wages due at the end of the month.
Early indications from businesses trying to access the scheme are that it continues to hold up well – with officials saying the newly-built systems can hold up to 450,000 applications an hour.
The launch of the scheme comes as the Government was warned of the economic cost for many companies of any delay in its implementation.
In a statement, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Our unprecedented job retention scheme will protect millions of jobs across the country and is now up and running.
“It’s vital that our economy gets up and running again as soon as it’s safe – and this scheme will allow that to happen.”
Under the furlough scheme, employers can go online to claim cash grants worth up to 80 per cent of wages, capped at £2,500 a month per worker.
Approximately 5,000 HMRC staff will operate the scheme, intended to assist thousands of UK firms, with the money due to reach bank accounts within six working days, a statement from the Treasury said.
Phone lines and web-chat services will be available to help answer applicants’ questions, with the scheme launching 10 days ahead of schedule, it added.
The Chancellor earlier announced the scheme will be extended for a further month until the end of June, in light of the ongoing countrywide Covid-19 lockdown.
Adam Marshall, director general at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: “Our research indicates that two-thirds of firms have furloughed some portion of their workforce.
“With April’s payday approaching, it is essential that the application process is smooth and that payments are made as soon as possible. Any delay would exacerbate the cash crisis many companies are facing and could threaten jobs and businesses.”
Jim Harra, chief executive of HMRC, said he was “very confident” the system running the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme would work after it had been “tested at volume”.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast, he said: “Of course, there is a limit to the capacity of the system, so if every employer tries to use it at 8 o’clock this morning some will be asked to queue or come back later, that doesn’t mean the system has crashed, it simply means that it’s full.
“But employers can claim any time over the few days, between now and Wednesday, and we will have the money in their bank account by April 30.”
He later told the BBC Today programme that 67,000 applications were filed within 30 minutes of the system launching.
He added: “So I’m confident that if employers are patient, use the system, it’s available 24/7, and as I say, if your payroll date is April 30 you can claim any time today, tomorrow or Wednesday and we will get that money into your account.”