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HMRC launches taskforce to uncover furlough and Eat Out to Help out fraudsters

August Graham, PA City Reporter
·3-min read

A company that saw sales rise despite furloughing all staff and takeaways which received online reviews despite claiming to tax officials they were closed are among the businesses being targeted by a Government taskforce.

Investigators working for HM Revenue and Customs have found one company which saw higher sales in August than before the pandemic, despite claiming it had sent all its workers home.

Businesses have been able to claim up to £2,500 per month for each member of staff who has been unable to work during the pandemic.

The money was meant to be passed on to the employee, to cover up to 80% of their wages.

However, experts have been worried about abuse of the scheme.

Investigators working for the tax authority said they are cross-referencing millions of claims for furlough with other records, including August’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

They managed to claw back £357,000 from one company which had threatened to sack its staff unless they worked through the pandemic, even if they were sick, while still claiming furlough money from the Government to cover their wages.

The owner of one restaurant was also receiving £2,500 a month in furlough for “off the book” employees while claiming the restaurant was closed, despite serving takeaways. The restaurant also made claims through the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme, again while supposedly closed.

HMRC said it had recovered £13,800 from the business.

On the first few days of each week in August, restaurants could offer customers half-price meals, and then claim the other half from the Government.

Investigators comparing pre-pandemic tax returns and debit card data to Eat Out claims found that many restaurants claimed they had sold far more meals than usual in August.

They also found that some takeaways were getting online reviews from customers, despite claiming they had closed and furloughed all of their staff.

Last month, the Treasury announced that it would provide £100 million in extra funding to help HMRC tackle fraud in the furlough scheme and other support programmes.

The money will support a taskforce of 1,250 staff to investigate claims.

The investigators have already opened 10,000 inquiries into claims so far, and have another in the pipeline, with plans to double the number in future.

About 1.3 million companies have claimed nearly £58 billion from the Government’s furlough scheme so far.

The scheme was set up to cover 80% of the salaries of employees who were unable to work, and so far 11.4 million people have been furloughed at some point since it was launched a year ago.

HMRC said in a statement that it “continues to encourage businesses and individuals to come forward and self-correct if they have made a mistake in their claim.

“We appreciate claimants may have made genuine mistakes and no-one who has tried to do the right thing but made an honest mistake has any need to be concerned, as long as they work with us to put it right.”