Furlough fraud: Warning as data reveals many Britons forced to continue working

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Furlough fraud is defined as an exploitation of the scheme which was designed by the government in March to help those affected by the lockdown crisis. As businesses were forced to close, the threat of unemployment for millions was just around the corner, until the government decided to step in. Furlough, or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, has helped over 9 million people, with the government originally offering furloughed employees 80 percent of their wage up to £2,500.

But in exchange, in the first stage of the scheme, employees were barred from working for their company in any capacity while on furlough.

More recently, employees have been brought back on a part time basis. 

However, there have been close to 8,000 reports of the rules of the scheme being breached.

Companies now stand accused of allowing the practice to fester, as data revealed many continued with their jobs during lockdown. 

A study conducted by Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich universities revealed the rules had been frequently bent during the scheme.

Surveys of 9,000 people found 63 percent of furloughed employees broke the rules, and the ban on working while furlough had been “routinely ignored”.

The research also revealed furloughed staff worked for an average of 15 hours a week.

In many cases employees on furlough were instructed to carry on working by their employer.

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However, some also carried on with urgent tasks from home even though it was against the law. 

Furlough is gradually winding down now, with the scheme scheduled to end altogether in October.

From August onwards, employers have been required to take on more financial responsibility as the government grant eases.

However, rules on furloughing have become more flexible, with part time work also permitted.

Furlough fraud, however, is an issue which evidently appears to be continuing. 

Individuals who believe their company has been breaking the rules are first encouraged to raise the issue internally.

But if this is not resolved, they have been told to escalate the matter for HMRC furlough fraud hotline, which can be found on the government’s website. 

Speaking to Express.co.uk at the start of August, an HMRC spokesperson said: “We’d ask anyone concerned their employer might be abusing the scheme to please contact us.

“It could be that you’re not being paid what you’re entitled to, they might be asking you to work while you’re on furlough, or they may have claimed for times when you were working.

“Reports can be submitted to us entirely anonymously and everything we receive is assessed and a decision made on the most appropriate course of action. 

“We’re not trying to catch people out – if it turns out to be a genuine mistake then we’ll help put it right, and if it’s more serious then we’ll step in.

“These reports are just one way that HMRC identifies fraud. Claims are checked and payments may be withheld or need to be repaid if the claim is based on dishonest or inaccurate information. 

“We won’t hesitate to take criminal action against the most serious cases.”

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