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Two-thirds of UK firms apply for Government’s employee furlough scheme

By Holly Williams, PA Deputy City Editor

Two-thirds of UK businesses have applied for Government help paying wage bills for furloughed staff, but less than a fifth have received support so far, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the Government’s coronavirus job retention scheme was the most popular support programme, with 66% of firms surveyed having applied.

The data revealed that 19% of firms that have applied have received help since it went live on April 20.

More than half – 56% – of firms have also applied for the VAT deferral scheme, although just 42% have received the support.

The ONS data showed the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown on businesses across Britain, as it revealed nearly a quarter of firms – 24% – have said revenues have more than halved.

The ONS surveyed 17,623 businesses in the UK, of which 5,158 responded for the period between April 6 and 19.

It found that of all businesses continuing to trade, 57% reported their turnover had decreased in some way, while 13% expected revenues to fall “substantially” in the next two weeks.

Government figures last week showed businesses had applied for 3.8 million workers to be furloughed since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.

Applications worth around £4.5 billion had been made as of April 24, with 77,000 new claims on Thursday last week alone.

Under the scheme – due to run until the end of June – the Government pays 80% of wages of workers laid off because of the current crisis, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

Data also out from the ONS on Thursday showed that the online prices of high-demand products increased by 0.2% from the week ending April 19 to the week ending April 26.

It said prices were “generally more stable”, though there were large rises in the cost of tinned beans, rice and pasta sauce.

Nappies saw the biggest price fall of 1.4%, added the ONS.

Since the first week of the coronavirus lockdown, high demand products have increased by 1.3%, it said.