UK businesses demanding time off fell by 12,000 in February

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The number of companies claiming time off fell between January and February, but more than 840,000 still depend on state support to pay staff.

Revised figures released by HM Revenue and Customs showed nearly 12,000 fewer companies claimed in February under the coronavirus job retention program than in January.

The total number of businesses benefiting from the scheme had previously jumped by more than 100,000 between December and January, with business activity constrained by national lockdowns imposed across the UK.

But after peaking at 852,082 in January, the total number of beneficiaries fell back to 840,387 in February.

The decline has likely accelerated significantly since then, with the Bureau of National Statistics saying last week that the proportion of the business workforce still on leave fell from 17% to 13% in April.

HMRC has also removed more than 400 companies from the data, indicating that some have made the decision to reimburse time off.

Guardian Media Group said in April it would voluntarily return £ 1.6million of leave money to the government, claimed at the start of the pandemic to fund the salaries of some staff.

Dixons Carphone is also not appearing in the new data, after saying last month he would repay the £ 73million he received.

A slew of supermarkets and home builders, as well as companies such as Serco and Ikea, have already returned the holidays.

Several large employers, including fashion brands New Look and JD Sports, as well as gyms and David Lloyds leisure companies, reduced their use of the program between January and February.

The Guardian has previously revealed that royals, billionaires, tax exiles and some of the UK’s biggest landowner aristocrats are using this system rather than using their own funds to pay staff at small businesses that ‘they owned.

None of the companies named by the Guardian have been removed from the list, indicating that they continue to demand time off.

Bookmaker Ladbrokes said in April he was still considering repaying his leave after a bumper year for online gambling in which rival William Hill returned his own support for taxpayers.

Ladbrokes remains one of the biggest claimants, receiving aid worth up to £ 55million between December and February.

The biggest applicants reflect the impact on the hospitality and travel sectors, according to the latest data, with the two pub chains JD Wetherspoon and Mitchells & Butlers being the only two companies to rank in the higher end of the range. £ 25-50million.

The next group, between £ 10 million and £ 25million, includes British Airways, easyJet, retailer Primark and pub chains Greene King and Stonegate.

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