'Sell one of your yachts!': Sir Philip Green asks for taxpayer help

‘Sell one of your yachts!’: Outrage as billionaire Sir Philip Green asks for taxpayer help to pay emergency wages to 14,500 workers he has furloughed

  • Twitter users called on disgraced businessman to sell one of his three yachts
  • Arcadia is owned by Sir Philip’s wife, Tina, who is based in tax-free Monaco 
  • Move has now landed UK taxpayers with a huge bill worth millions of pounds 
  • Taxpayer will now pay 80% of each worker’s salary up to £2,500 per month  

Sir Philip Green provoked outrage today as he demanded emergency taxpayer help to pay the wages of 14,500 workers he has furloughed during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Furious Twitter users suggested the disgraced businessman should sell one of his three yachts, which include the £122million Lionheart, or use some of his estimated £1.8billion fortune rather than relying solely on the taxpayer. 

Struggling Arcadia is owned by Sir Philip’s wife, Tina, whose residency in Monaco means she does not pay UK tax on profits including the £1.2bn dividend she famously banked in 2005 in one of the biggest pay checks in British history. 

The taxpayer now faces a huge bill to cover wages for all Arcadia store staff of up to £2,500 per month, prompting one Twitter user to rage: ‘Tell him to sell off one of his yachts. That will bring him in a bob or two. The tight-fisted chancer.’ 

Other household businesses that are furloughing staff include McDonalds, British Airways and Primark. It comes as the number of UK coronavirus deaths reached 2,921 as the country remains in lockdown with the economy at a standstill.    

Sir Philip and his wife Tina enjoy the sun during the Cannes Film Festival. Tina, who is the registered owner of Arcadia, lives in tax-free Monaco 

Twitter users today claimed Sir Philip should contribute some of his own money to paying his staff during the coronavirus outbreak 

Arcadia’s CEO Ian Grabiner confirmed yesterday that all 14,000 out of its 16,000 staff had been furloughed, with online operations continuing and head office staff continuing to work until April 5. 

Mr Grabiner said he would not receive a salary or any benefits until further notice, adding: ‘We look forward to opening our store doors again as soon as it is safe to do so and welcoming back our colleagues and customers.’

Nonetheless, Sir Philip’s bid for taxpayer help sparked anger on social media today, with one Twitter user writing: ‘There are brass necks and then there’s Philip Green…’

Sir Philip suspends payments to Arcadia’s pension scheme 

Sir Philip Green’s retail empire Arcadia is suspending payments to its pension scheme as it desperately tries to cling on to cash in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Arcadia will halt the £2m per month contributions which were agreed last summer in a deal designed to reduce the shortfall in the pension scheme.

The deal saw Sir Philip’s wife Lady Tina Green, who technically owns Arcadia, agree to plug the gap in the scheme by also making her own £25m per year contributions. She will continue to make those payments despite the coronavirus crisis.

But pensions expert John Ralfe, who advised MPs investigating the collapse of Green’s former chain BHS, has called on Lady Tina to use her own wealth to cover the sums Arcadia is holding back.

He said: ‘Given Lady Tina’s significant net worth, the Pensions Regulator must ensure that coronavirus is not an excuse for the Arcadia pension scheme to be short-changed.’

Ralfe estimates that if Arcadia were to go bust, the current shortfall in its pension scheme would be around £350m to £400m.  

Tearlach Wilson said: ‘Turning out to be the same as after the financial crash where the wealthy escaped having to endure 10 years of austerity while the lesser paid suffered from it, the same less paid the country are now relying during this virus hell.’ 

Others pointed out that while Universal Credit applications were being refused for people with more than £16,000 in savings the same rule did not apply for billionaires like Sir Philip. 

John Spiers said: ‘Billionaire Philip Green asks government to pay 14,500 employees out of emergency wage scheme. WTF? 

‘Normal people are being told they can’t get government support until they’ve ‘used up their savings’ … how about he uses up his billion pounds?’

Another wrote: ‘Philip Green asks for taxpayer support to prop up #Arcadia . Nah. State Benefits are means tested, right? Claimants need to spend their savings before they get anything. Sell some assets like your boat.’ 

And a third noted: ‘People have to use up their savings before they get benefits. The mega-rich should have to use up their ‘savings’ before their companies receive Government help.’

The news comes despite some Topshop employees saying two weeks’ ago that they had been laid off after all 300 stores were closed before the government announced its furloughing scheme.   

In a vivid illustration of the impact of coronavirus on the economy, firms including British Airways, Nissan and energy firm Ovo all announced plans to furlough workers as they try to cut costs.

They join a growing list of household names, from Greggs to Costa, McDonald’s and Primark, which have already sent home 400,000 staff. 

Sir Philip has three yachts, including the Lionheart (pictured) which is thought to cost around £122m

Twitter users asked ‘has he tried selling his yacht?’ after it emerged he was asking for taxpayer help  

Experts at the Centre for Economics and Business Research think-tank last night predicted that as many as 6.1million private sector employees could be furloughed.

Primark’s 30,000-strong workforce to be furloughed in a matter of days as retailer’s top brass take a pay cut 

Top brass at Primark-owning group Associated British Foods have agreed to slash their pay packets, after warning the firm’s profits will now come in ‘much lower’ than expected as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

As a non-essential retailer, cheap fashion chain Primark has shut all its 189 stores across the country, affecting around 30,000 staff.

‘The board is acutely aware that many Primark employees will see their livelihoods affected by Covid-19’, AB Foods said in an update today. 

When Primark closed all its stores, it promised to pay its workforce in full for their contracted hours for a two-week period. From 5 April, however, the retailer will shift to the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, ‘meaning retail employees will receive 80 per cent of earnings.’  

Under the furlough scheme, employees receive 80 per cent of their pay packet up to a maximum of £2,500 a month, with costs met by the Government.

In a bid to shore up their finances, a string of companies have axed shareholder dividends and are issuing new shares to investors. Cutting pay for high-earning directors is also rapidly becoming a mainstay for big companies during the crisis.

Primark’s chief executive, Paul Marchant, has ‘requested’ that his base pay is temporarily cut by 50 per cent.  

That would cost the Government £30billion if they were off work for three months or £60billion if they were off work for six months, based on estimates by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). Once the self-employed are accounted for, the cost could hit £80billion.

The IFS conceded the totals were ‘uncertain’, but they underline the huge cost of the Covid-19 outbreak to the country.

The furlough scheme is not expected to be up and running until the end of the month, meaning many will have to get by for weeks.

And the number of those furloughed is set to spiral in the coming weeks. The British Chambers of Commerce estimates 44 per cent of firms expect to furlough at least half of their staff, and almost a third between three-quarters and all of their workforce over the next week.

There are now growing fears the Government may have underestimated the cost of subsidising the wages of Britain’s workforce, having already committed a £330billion rescue package for businesses.

The IFS’s Carl Emmerson said: ‘Large increases in borrowing are well advised to address this current crisis, but the consequences for the public finances will be felt long after the immediate public health emergency has hopefully passed.’

Yesterday British Airways confirmed plans to suspend more than 30,000 staff – roughly three-quarters of its workforce – until the end of May. Those furloughed include the vast majority of cabin crew, ground staff, engineers and those working at head office. Thousands of pilots have already been suspended with a 50 per cent pay cut. 

Nissan also revealed the majority of the 6,000 workers at its Sunderland plant, which closed on March 17, will be furloughed for the remainder of this month, while energy firm Ovo will suspend 3,400 staff – more than a third of its workforce. 

Arcadia has been contacted for comment.  

I’ve been furloughed: What does it mean, why are companies doing this and what happens next? 

 ByCamilla Canocchiand Jayna Rana For Thisismoney.co.uk

Until a fortnight ago, it’s unlikely many British workers had ever encountered the term ‘furloughed’, but now it is a concept that has been thrust into the spotlight by the coronavirus crisis.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has unveiled a series of measures to cover the wages of millions of people suddenly left without work and prevent businesses going bankrupt due to the coronavirus crisis – and furloughing staff lays at the heart of it.

The so-called coronavirus job retention scheme enables businesses to continue paying part of their employees’ salary who would otherwise have been laid off because of the crisis. 

Sunak said the Government will cover 80 per cent of salaries up to a ceiling of £2,500 a month – equivalent to the UK average wage of £30,000 a year.

Going home: easyJet just one among the many companies announcing a two-month furlough for its cabin crew who can’t work after the company grounded all of its flights

The scheme, open to all firms with employees, will be up and running by the end of April and backdated to March 1. 

But in order to access it, businesses will have to ‘furlough’ their employees who they can no longer afford to pay. 

This term, until now more or less unknown in the UK, is suddenly popping up everywhere, with easyJet just one among the many companies announcing a two-month furlough for its cabin crew who can’t work after the company grounded all of its flights.

Here we explain what furlough means and what it entails for workers and businesses. 

What does it mean to be ‘furloughed’? 

Essentially, if you’re being furloughed by your employer, it means you’re being sent home, but will still receive 80 per cent of your salary by the Government, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

This Government job retention scheme is only for employed people, it does not apply if you are self-employed.  

However, you first need to agree to be put on furlough by your employer, who can then apply for the money to the Government. You cannot apply for it yourself 

‘This has made me research my options and cut back on spending’ 

Amy Frankland-Hull is a Learning and Development Executive and has been furloughed, which has led to her having to take a mortgage holiday and cut back.

She said: ‘I was told last week that I had the option of furlough or redundancy.

‘I was told I was being placed on furlough until the Government ends the scheme, or the firm asks me to come back to work, or I leave. 

‘This has made me research my options and cut back on unnecessary spending, such as buying new clothes. Fortunately, with the furlough cap being 80 per cent coverage of salary up to £2,500 a month, my company is covering the 80 per cent of what I earn above £2,500, so I am on 80 per cent of my full pay.

‘I have applied – and been accepted – for a mortgage holiday and I have also cancelled subscriptions to BT Sport and Sky Sports while there is no live sport on TV. I have also been doing online courses for personal development and have applied to do some volunteering work for the NHS.’

Your employer can choose to pay the remaining 20 per cent of your wages, although it is not obliged to do so. 

Where does the word furlough come from?

The term furlough refers to when employees are given a temporary leave of absence.

It is believed to have derived from a Dutch word in the 17th century as a term of absence for those in the military.  

In modern terms, it generally indicates when an employee is forced to take some time off work because the company it works for may be in a difficult financial situation.

In recent history, the term started appearing in the US during the financial crisis of 2008, as many American companies furloughed its employees.  

US companies have also started to furlough its employees during the current coronavirus crisis, although the US government scheme works differently from the UK’s.

In the US, companies that keep paying workers who can no longer work because of the coronavirus shutdown are given tax breaks. 

However, many retailers like Urban Outfitters have not chosen to do that, leaving staff without pay, while only preserving their health coverage. 

If you earn more than £2,500 a month, your employer can choose to ‘top up’ your salary, but again it is not forced to do so. 

You will still continue to pay income tax and national insurance contributions while on furlough.  

Can I be furloughed if I’m on a zero-hour contract? 

Yes. Also if you’re on a flexible contract or are employed by an agency.

If you are on a zero-hour contract, which means you don’t necessarily earn the same amount each month, your employer should give you the 80 per cent of your average monthly salary since you started working.

That also applies to workers who have been employed for less than a year.

If you’ve worked for your employer for a year or more, you should receive 80 per cent of your average monthly salary, or 80 per cent of what you earned in the same month during the previous year – whichever is highest.

If you started work only in February, your employer will pro-rata your earnings from that month. But if you’ve started working on 28 February or after, you are not eligible. 

If you have been made redundant after February 28, or even if you left a job after that date, you could be reemployed under furlough if your employer is willing to do so.  Otherwise you will have to claim unemployment.  

Gatwick’s North Terminal has shut with the South Terminal operating from 2pm and 10pm to cut costs, meaning most of the airport’s 2,500 staff will be furloughed this week

Can I be furloughed if I’m sick? 

If you’re fallen ill and in the meantime your employer has had to shut down, you should first get statutory sick pay first, but can be furloughed after this. 

Those who are self-isolating because of coronavirus can also be placed on furlough. 

People who are ‘shielding’ and are vulnerable to potential severe illness caused by the coronavirus, can also be placed on furlough. 

At the moment, employees can be furloughed from a minimum of three weeks up to three months, although the Government may look to extend that if needed. 

‘I won’t be able to save any money for the next few months’

James Mooney is a medical claims assessor at a medical insurance company based in Surrey. He was furloughed this week which means he’s had to put a hold on saving to buy his first home.

He said: ‘I was furloughed on Monday but we were told last week some changes were going to be made in response to the coronavirus situation so it wasn’t that much of a surprise.

‘Essentially half the team has been furloughed while the other half, who have been employed the longest, will continue working from home. 

‘I currently rent a flat with my girlfriend while we save up to buy our own place. Fortunately she is still working full time but with my 20 per cent pay cut, we can just about pay for the rent, bills and food.

‘We’re going to have to hold off buying new furniture and I won’t be able to save any money for the next few months. I haven’t done all the maths but looking at it quickly I think we should be fine.’

Which businesses can apply?

Any company with employees can apply, including charities, recruitment agencies and public authorities.  

However, the Government does not expect many public sector organisations to apply, as ‘the majority of public sector employees are continuing to provide essential public services or contribute to the response to the coronavirus outbreak’.  

Organisations who are receiving public funding specifically to provide services necessary to respond to the coronavirus outbreak are not expected to furlough staff. 

Employers can furlough staff for a minimum of three weeks and are not allowed to rotate employees on furlough. 

In order to access the scheme, businesses need to change the status of their employees to furlough workers and submit the information to HMRC.  

HMRC are currently working to set up a system for reimbursing companies. 

‘I’d like to think I will go back eventually’

Primary school teaching assistant Dawn Harrison from Hertfordshire was furloughed on 30 March, ten days after Boris Johnson announced schools would be closing in response to the coronavirus pandemic.  

She said: ‘I’d never heard the term furlough before but after everything that’s happened and then with schools closing for everyone but the children of key workers, I knew it was coming for me. 

‘I received an email on the morning of 30 March telling all staff at the primary school that furloughing was the next step and those who would be sent home would be called.

‘I received the call later that day. The headmaster was very compassionate and reassuring and I know it wouldn’t have been a nice call to have to make.

‘I’m ok with the situation for the time being and am trying to remain positive but that may change if we’re in the same situation in June.

‘I am fortunate that this hasn’t had much of a financial impact yet but I am concerned about what may happen to my husband, who works in the airline industry.

‘I’d like to think I will return as the schools will have to eventually go back. If being furloughed will save the school and my job, then it’ll be worth it.’  

I have been furloughed, can I go and find a temporary job to earn extra money elsewhere?

You can do other work to earn extra money while furloughed but you should check with your employer first.

There may be something in your contract that says you cannot do this, or that you have to officially ask if you can and they could say no. If you are struggling financially, make sure that you mention this in your request.

The official Government line is that if your existing employment contract allows then you are free to seek another job while on furlough and your 80 per cent furlough pay will not be affected.

Obviously, if your employer is topping up your furlough pay, then asking if you can do work elsewhere to earn extra money is a tricky issue.   

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