Furlough fraud: Warning as reports to HMRC climb to 8,000

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Furlough has provided millions of Britons with the financial help they have needed due to the impact of lockdown in the UK. Furlough, or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme as it is formally known, was announced by the government in March in efforts to rescue the UK’s workforce. As businesses were forced to close, millions may have been left unemployed and forced to turn to the benefits system to gain the support they need.

However, the government vowed it would provide months of financial aid to Britain’s employees.

The scheme offered employees 80 percent of their salary up to £2,500, alongside National Insurance and pension contributions to assist employers and employees alike.

There were, however, certain rules dictated under the scheme that all are required to adhere to.

This includes people not being permitted to work for the company that furloughed them in the initial stages, and pay being set at the normal rate for any time worked.

Failure to adhere to these rules has commonly been referred to as furlough fraud, and reports of such instances have been rising as the weeks continue.

Indeed, HMRC has been sent 7,791 reports of potential furlough fraud according to recent data.

This is a marked increase from the figure of 6,749 reported as of July 22.

Whistleblowing charity, Protect, has reported a number of instances where companies appear to be deliberately flouting the rules.

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In one instance, a company had furloughed an employee without their knowledge, and the individual only discovered the issue when they received 80 percent of their pay at the end of the month.

Another report said workers had been asked to return to the company as a volunteer while on furlough – something which is also against the law.

HMRC has said it will be cracking down where it has found companies have broken the law.

There could even be criminal charges on the cards for those who deliberately evade paying attention to the rules. 

Britons who believe their company may be complicit in such actions have been urged to first address the issue internally.

However, if they do believe their concerns have not been met, the complaint can be escalated to HMRC’s furlough fraud hotline, online. 

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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