I propose to take Questions Nos. 53, 55 and 58 together.
Section 28B of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 provides for the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) which is an economy-wide enterprise support for eligible businesses. EWSS provides a subsidy to qualifying employers, based on the number of qualifying employees on the payroll.
As an economy-wide support, the EWSS has played a central role in supporting businesses, encouraging employment and helping to maintain the link between employers and employees since July 2020. As of 9 December 2021, payments of approximately €5.73 billion and PRSI credit of over €902 million have been granted to 51,700 employers in respect of some 696,900 workers.
The EWSS legislation provides that for employers to be eligible for the EWSS, they must be able to demonstrate that their business will experience a 30% reduction in turnover or customer orders for the calendar year 2021 compared to the calendar year 2019 and that this disruption to normal business is caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. I would also draw attention to the fact that, despite the exit from most public health restrictions during the summer, the eligibility criteria was not tightened in the Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2021 which was enacted in the summer and which extended the scheme beyond end-June 2021. In fact, the reference period to which the metric must be applied was broadened out in the above Act to span a full year thus effectively relaxing the conditionality to qualify to benefit from the scheme in most cases.
Therefore, for most businesses, eligibility is determined by comparing the actual turnover or level of customer orders of the business for the calendar year 2021 with the turnover or level of customer orders of the business for the calendar year 2019. Many businesses were fully closed or limited in their capacity to trade due to the public health restrictions in place for the earlier months of 2021. This change in the EWSS assessment period meant that such businesses could generate the equivalent of up to 70% of their calendar year 2019 turnover or customer orders for the remainder of 2021 and still remain eligible to claim support under the scheme.
To address the specific question regarding businesses that have expanded, so they are operating at over 70%, such businesses would not be eligible for EWSS as their turnover exceeds the threshold for EWSS support. The EWSS scheme is calibrated in such a way to ensure that support is available for those businesses that are most adversely impacted by the pandemic. The eligibility requirement of a 30% reduction in turnover has been a key feature of the scheme since its introduction and I have no current plans to alter this criterion.
As the Deputies will be aware, as part of my Budget Day announcement I outlined that the EWSS will remain in place in a graduated form until 30 April 2022 and that there will be no changes to the eligibility review period. While the scheme will be closed to new employers from 1 January 2022, eligible employers who are availing of EWSS at 31 December 2021 will continue to be supported by the scheme, if they so choose, until 30 April 2022.
As announced on 9 December last, arrangements are being made to extend the enhanced rates of EWSS for the months of December 2021 and January 2022 to give certainty to businesses when they need it most and to help to maintain employer/employee links. This matter is scheduled to return to Dáil Éireann later today for approval as part of the Finance Bill 2021 process. From 1 February 2022, the original two-rate structure of €203 per week and €151.50 per week will apply; for March and April 2022 the flat rate subsidy of €100 per week will apply and the scheme will end on 30 April 2022.
As part of the deliberations associated with this most recent change, consideration was given to amending the reference period so that all businesses would have to demonstrate eligibility for EWSS in the period January to April 2022 by way of a 30% decrease in turnover compared with the same period in 2019. However, for a number of reasons, including the fact that such a change could have the effect of excluding certain businesses who, in line with my Budget Day announcement, might have otherwise expected to be eligible for EWSS and who have planned accordingly, such an approach was not proceeded with. Accordingly, I intend to follow the course outlined in Budget 2022, so that businesses who qualify for EWSS as at 31 December 2021 may continue to be supported by the scheme until 30 April 2022.
Finally, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, the Government will continue to monitor developments closely. Details of all Government supports available for businesses can be found on the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s website, at the following link: enterprise.gov.ie/en/What-We-Do/Supports-for-SMEs/COVID-19-supports/