“Furlough”, “coronavirus” and “not again” - the three most used terms of 2020 (probably). Before this year who had even heard of the word furlough? Certainly not me! But, regardless, it came crashing into our lives along with the pandemic back in March and now we are slowly being weaned off its teat, whether we’re ready or not.
Undoubtedly, it's been a lifeline for the millions of people and businesses who have utilised it, be it under the guise of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) or the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). But when claims are made in a rush, and under a huge amount of stress and pressure, AND you’ve never done it before - mistakes are bound to happen. What else is bound to happen is people exploiting things for their own nefarious means and unfortunately, fraud cases increase during times of economic hardship.
So this is why HMRC are now cracking down and beginning the mammoth task of tackling incorrect and fraudulent claims made under both the CJRS and the SEISS. They paid out tens of billions of pounds and are now counting the pennies, you can hardly blame them. But trust me, they are taking no prisoners. With HMRC ready to breath down your neck, it’s time to do some housekeeping (or soul-searching!) and double check any claim that you made to ensure that they were watertight.
I’ve talked previously about some common mistakes that were made in the application process which you can read here. But what about fraud? What counts as furlough fraud as opposed to a genuine mistake? Well, these may seem blindingly obvious but here goes:
Claiming CJRS/SEISS despite keeping staff working - even on a voluntary basis
Intentionally not using furlough money as required
False payroll records
Claims by organised criminals
Fraud will be investigated by means of whistleblowers and HMRC’s computer system which has the ability to flag anomalies in claims by comparing them to industry and sector norms.
You have until 20 October 2020 to disclose incorrect furlough claims - whether they were legitimate or not. After this period passes then the gloves are off and HMRC will pursue any claims with the full force of the law. They can issue both criminal and civil proceedings along with freezing bank accounts and seizing computers/digital equipment and records.
So yeah, they’re not coming to play. Sorry to be all fire and brimstone but it's better to be safe than sorry, or safe rather than caught. Either way, get it sorted before October 2020 and have one less thing to stress yourself about.