MPs are urging the government to publish a list of companies which are using the furlough scheme, amid concerns it doesn’t know how much of taxpayers’ money is being lost through fraud and error.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee said levels of ‘opportunistic fraud’ – where furloughed staff continued to work while companies claimed grants – could be running at between seven per cent to 34 per cent of cases.
The committee is calling on HM Revenue and Customs to publish a list of employers which have received funding from the scheme by the end of January.
Currently the true scale of the losses will not be disclosed until the end of next year at the earliest.
Many car dealers have used or are using the furlough scheme to keep the lights on, and have relied on support packages to retain staff during one national lockdown and various local lockdowns.
Over the weekend, Marshall Motor Group boss Daksh Gupta told Car Dealer he’s pushing ahead with marketing plans – and using the government’s furlough scheme again is not part of his 2021 plan of action, despite having 40 of his 115 dealerships now in Tier 4 restrictions.
Earlier this month Gupta told Car Dealer: ‘Not using furlough is a bold move as I am aware that other companies in the sector are planning to use the support in quarter one. But we felt this was not in the spirit of what the government was intending for the scheme.
‘This brings back some sort of normality. It’s bold, brave and ambitious but we are setting our stall out for 2021 to win.’
Along with calling HMRC to publish the full list of companies using the scheme, the committee also said HMRC and the Treasury should do more to help the estimated 2.9m workers who have been excluded from both furlough and the income support scheme for the self-employed.
As of October, the two schemes had cost more than £55bn, but since then they have been extended into 2021 with the furlough scheme now set to run to the end of April and the self-employed support continuing to the end of January.
Public scrutiny of where taxpayers’ money is going is essential
Despite the extensions following the national lockdown in England in November, the committee said the government had not developed its methods for determining whether people are eligible to ensure assistance gets to all those who need it.
‘HM Treasury and HMRC should investigate whether more data within and outside of the tax system could be used to determine eligibility for currently excluded groups and write to the committee within six weeks to explain their findings,’ the committee said.
The committee chair Meg Hillier said that with so much taxpayers’ money going to private companies, it was essential that there was full transparency.
‘With the Treasury claiming it can’t give even a ballpark figure for the cost of Covid job support until the end of next year, public scrutiny of where taxpayers’ money is going is essential,’ she said.
‘Many workers including freelancers and entrepreneurs have not had a penny and are really struggling as they continue to fall through the gaps.
‘There is data that could be crunched to reach and help these individuals, many of whom will be unable to work at all under Tier 3 restrictions.’