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HMRC digital team wins praise after processing 1m furlough claims in eight hours

British business leaders have praised HMRC’s digital team after its systems processed wage subsidy requests on behalf of a million furloughed workers in just eight hours yesterday (20 April).

The scheme, unveiled by Chancellor Rishi Sunak last month, pays furloughed workers 80 per cent of their wages up to £2,500 a month, in a bid to shore up jobs until lockdown restrictions are lifted in the coming months.

As the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme went live on Monday, around 140,000 businesses submitted wage subsidy requests for their employees. The Treasury has promised to pay firms that make requests through the scheme within six working days.

HMRC’s IT appears to have held up under the weight of requests, with business leaders reporting an effortless application process. Tim Foster, co-founder of London-based Yummy Pubs, told the Financial Times it was the “most painless experience so far during the lockdown”. Craig Spillar, a director at Spillard Safety Systems, described it as “a lot more straightforward than I was expecting”.

During an interview on the BBC’s Today programme yesterday, HMRC chief Jim Harra revealed how the department had bolstered its IT ahead of the scheme’s launch. “We have scaled our IT system to cope with the maximum number of claims. There are over 2m PAYE schemes and our system is big enough to handle a claim from every one of those.”

Bill Mitchell, director of policy at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, told NS Tech: “[HMRC’s] digital team faced an unprecedented task in creating and managing a system which is capable of coping with the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of employees, in these extraordinary circumstances.

“The successful launch was an amazing achievement for the tech team, and another example of how IT professionals are working exceptionally hard to help us all overcome the crisis.”

HMRC’s tech has fared much better than the systems used by the Department for Work and Pensions to process welfare payments. Nearly half a million people applied for universal credit over the course of just nine days last month. Many faced long waits due to poorly prepared digital tools, as NS Tech reported at the time. People shared photos of the application process online after being placed in queues containing hundreds of thousands of users.

Read: DWP’s IT system unable to cope with influx of coronavirus-impacted welfare claimants