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Furlough fraud reports have entered their thousands over the past few months, with allegations of those using the scheme breaking the law. The support measure, otherwise known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), was designed to provide support to those financially affected by the pandemic. Under the original rules of the scheme, the government provided 80 percent of the value of a person’s salary up to £2,500 a month.
In return, employees were not permitted to work for their employer during the time in which they were furloughed.
However, unfortunately some companies are now being accused of breaking the rules.
For those who have done so, there is an important deadline to bear in mind this month as claims under furlough come to an end.
If a person makes a mistake on a claim or has purposefully received money under the scheme to which they are not entitled, they must come clean within a certain time period.
In addition, the Finance Act means there is also the possibility criminal prosecutions and corporate criminal offences could be brought.
October, then, is likely to be a moment of reckoning for those who have potentially exploited the scheme.
Patrick Cannon, a leading tax barrister, told Express.co.uk that after the scheme ends, it is likely HMRC will be cracking down harder on scheme exploitation.
He said: “I believe there will be a lot of routine enquiries opened into payments even after the scheme ends. 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.”
HMRC has said it has started post-payment investigations into furlough to look for instances where the scheme is being exploited.
Where employers do not take the opportunity to correct, HMRC will carry out investigations into their affairs.
Speaking to Express.co.uk earlier this year, 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.”