The Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS), which is provided for in section 28 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020, operated from 26 March 2020 to 31 August 2020 and was replaced by the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) from 1 September 2020.
The scheme was introduced as an emergency measure to provide financial support to businesses that were severely impacted by the pandemic and enabled employees whose employers could no longer afford to pay wages receive subsidy payments. The scheme was not intended as a support to domestic employers nor was it ever implied that it applied to them.
The TWSS operated on a self-assessment basis with the onus on applicants to satisfy themselves that they fully met the eligibility criteria for the scheme and to self-declare to Revenue that they correctly qualified. To assist employers in determining their eligibility, Revenue published very extensive guidance, which clearly set out the qualifying conditions, including the requirement that a minimum 25% decline in business turnover had occurred due to COVID-19 related restrictions. Revenue also deployed very significant resources to a TWSS Helpline to ensure employers were supported to the greatest extent possible through telephone and written (including e-mail) engagement.
The provision of domestic duties by an employee within a private household, where the employer is the owner or occupier is not a business activity for the purposes of the scheme. A relevant business in the context of the TWSS generally includes manufacturing, buying, selling or supplying goods or services with a view to making a profit, none of which can be associated with employing domestic staff. It is also not possible for a domestic employer to meet the ‘25% turnover’ eligibility test as there is no turnover associated with engaging a domestic employee.
In the event that any employers, including domestic employers, received TWSS payments to which they were not entitled, it is very important that they engage with Revenue and agree repayment arrangements. Where this does not happen, it may result in Revenue raising assessments and deploying debt collection sanctions to secure the repayments.
From the perspective of the employee, questions relating to an individual’s entitlements and rights in an employment context, what wages an employer may be legally obliged to pay employees in respect of their employment contract, hours worked and an employer’s capacity to pay wages to employees in light of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic are all matters that are outside the remit of the scheme.
The question in relation to applications for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection.