Furlough fraud has suffered a rise in recent months, with almost 4,500 whistleblower complaints to HMRC now being reported. Furlough was set up by the Treasury in order to help those affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Formally known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), furlough has provided financial assistance and job security to those out of work due to lockdown.
The scheme provides workers with 80 percent of their salary up to £2,500 a month, as well as National Insurance and pension contributions at present.
Originally scheduled to close in July, the scheme was extended to October to provide extra support to those who need it.
But some have been exploiting the rules to make their employees work during this time, or not informing staff they have been furloughed until they receive 80 percent of their pay.
Under current rules, employers who are found to have furloughed staff can face fraud charges.
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“There are gaps, issues and loopholes – which is why the scheme has been finessed as time goes by.
“Unfortunately I do think some unscrupulous employers are taking advantage of the scheme. One of the changes now is that employees can be brought back part time.
“I would hope this would stop instances of furlough fraud, and the sorts of fraud we have seen in the past.”
With nearly nine million people on furlough according to the most recent government data, it is likely the issue is widespread across the country.
People have been encouraged to first approach their employer if they have concerns about furlough practices.
But Mr Browne believes HMRC are likely to get tough on those who are found to be exploiting the scheme.
He added: “In terms of fraud, it is being widely reported. HMRC will take this very seriously, and this is a potential criminal act. The scheme is costing the country huge sums of money.
“You can be sure that when HMRC are processing claimants and even looking back at things over time, they will scrutinise this.
“I would like to think fraudsters are ultimately caught out on this, because it is one of those schemes that are not a bottomless pit.
“It will come to the point where the scheme ends in October, and because there is no bottomless pit, if there is anything that looks suspicious it is likely to be investigated, and serious consequences and repercussions will follow.”
Employees are also encouraged to blow the whistle on employers who are intentionally misusing the scheme.
People can do so via the HMRC furlough fraud hotline, established to help Britons report these instances anonymously.