New figures reveal that almost one fifth of workers in the UK's smallest businesses were still on furlough at the end of September, raising fears that many firms will find it hard to survive once the scheme ends.
The latest data from HMRC shows that micro-businesses are significantly more reliant on the furlough scheme than larger firms. As of 30 September, 19.9% of eligible workers in micro-businesses (1-9 employees) were on furlough, compared to 8.3% for medium-sized enterprises (50-249 employees) and just 3.8% of large firms (250+ employees).
The data shows that micro-businesses have also struggled to get staff off furlough compared to larger firms. The latest HMRC figures show that in large businesses the number of eligible furloughed employees was 81% lower in September than the peak in May. By comparison, 788,200 eligible employees in micro-businesses were furloughed at the end of September, only 61% lower than the April peak of 2,024,900 staff.
Many of the UK's smallest firms have had to furlough staff a second time during the recent lockdown. Charmaine Silver, owner of Nottingham-based cleaning business Crystal Shine Cleaning Service, said: "I have eight people in my business, including myself. I put four of them on furlough at the start of the first lockdown and then brought everyone back in June. We'd lost a lot of our clients and were in the process of trying to build the business back up, but then the second lockdown hit. A lot of our clients went into hiding and I had to put my staff back on furlough."
SME loan provider iwoca has raised concerns about the ability of micro-businesses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic compared to larger firms due to a greater reliance on the furlough scheme and a lack of confidence in seeking financial support.
It has highlighted new SME Finance Monitor data for Q3 2020 which shows that confidence in loan applications for micro-businesses has dropped by a third compared to this time last year, with only 41% anticipating success. The confidence measure for the three months to August 2020 hit a historic seven-year low of 34% and was almost halved since Q3 2019 when 64% believed their application would be accepted.
Christoph Rieche, ceo and co-founder of iwoca, said: "The gap between the demand for finance from micro-businesses and their expectation of success for raising it is alarming. Many businesses have not been able to access funding via the Bounce Back Loan Scheme and need urgent support."
Written by Rachel Miller.