Furlough fraud involves the exploitation of the government’s Job Retention Scheme for unscrupulous purposes. There have been thousands of reports to HMRC of companies breaking the rules laid out by the government to protect workers across the UK. Under original rules, employees were not permitted to work for their employer while on furlough.
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However, several instances of employers forcing their employees to work have been reported, leaving the scheme open to abuse.
HMRC has stated there have been over 4,000 reports of such behaviour occurring from companies.
The Revenue has said it will punish those found committing the crime severely.
And rules included in the new Finance Act are likely to cement this position further.
The scheme is scheduled to draw to a close in October, with companies required to take on additional financial responsibilities in the months until furlough finishes.
However, although the scheme will eventually end, an expert believes the Revenue will be cracking down even further after this date.
Express.co.uk spoke to Patrick Cannon, a leading tax barrister, who gave his opinion on how HMRC would be approaching cases going forward.
And unscrupulous companies should not be breathing a sigh of relief.
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Mr Cannon said: “HMRC will definitely be pursuing cases. I believe there will be a lot of routine enquiries opened into payments even after the scheme ends.
“I anticipate there will be random checks on companies, asking them to send over information relevant to a business and furloughing. If that gives cause for suspicion, they will be following that up.”
Mr Cannon highlighted that in the “heady days” of March and April, the Treasury was focused on making sure everyone received the financial support they needed.
However, the cost of this was significant, and may have been streamlined with more time.
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He added: “Six to 12 months down the line, it will really come home to roost how much money has been paid out.
“It will then be easy for the government and HMRC to fall into the mindset of raking as much money back as possible paid in breach of the rules.
“It is money for old rope – if they have clear cases of furlough fraud then it is going to be straightforward to get it back.”
When the scheme ends in October, it is anticipated HMRC will be evaluating as many claims as possible which it could legally claim money back from.
Companies who have been bending the rules, then, should be aware that the consequences are likely to follow them around.
Mr Cannon concluded: “There is an old saying: ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away’. But I think there is going to be a lot of taking away by Christmas when the penny drops as to what dire straits the country is in economically.”
Where Britons believe their company has been complicit in furlough fraud, whistleblowing organisations have encouraged people to raise the issue internally first.
If they are unsatisfied, they can progress a complaint to HMRC’s furlough fraud hotline – where reports are treated as confidential.
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