Companies are being urged not to lose momentum in the drive to close the gender pay gap after the Government announced it was suspending enforcement of a deadline to report wage differences because of the coronavirus crisis.

The Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said enforcement of the gender pay gap deadlines for this reporting year will be suspended, so there will be no expectation on employers to report their data.

In a joint statement, Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, and EHRC chairman David Isaac, said: "We recognise that employers across the country are facing unprecedented uncertainty and pressure at this time. Because of this we feel it is only right to suspend enforcement of gender pay gap reporting this year."

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development welcomed the news, but urged businesses to delay rather than avoid reporting.

Spokesman Charles Cotton said: "The Government's decision to relax this year's gender pay gap reporting deadline is testimony to the incredible and unprecedented pressure that organisations are under.

"Keeping our workforces safe and paid, as well as supporting new working practices to help businesses survive, must remain the priority throughout this crisis.

"Given the reporting data is based on a snapshot date in April last year, most employers will already have the data already, and most of their narrative too. It should just be a question of delaying their reporting to when the current crisis has passed.

"The coronavirus stands to have a disproportionate impact on women in the labour market, because of the high proportion of women working in retail and hospitality.

"This makes it more important than ever that we don't take our eye off the ball and risk losing momentum in our efforts to close the gender pay gap."

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: "We are not surprised to see gender pay gap reporting deferred for this year, but the Government response to the coronavirus crisis must not be gender-blind.

"We know that women will be disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of the pandemic, it will be mothers who will take on the majority of care for the children who are not in nursery or school, women are also the majority of healthcare workers on the frontline, and it is overwhelmingly women who will be at risk from an abusive partner if they are having to self-isolate at home.

"This crisis will have long-term adverse consequences for women's lives and gender equality. Government must ensure they are focusing on women."

More than 3,000 employers have already reported their data.