HMRC is targeting property industry companies as it clamps down on furlough payment fraud, a leading employment law firm has claimed.
London-based Collyer Bristow says HMRC has put construction companies and estate agents ‘firmly in its sights’ as it begins to investigate companies which have deliberately or inadvertently asked staff to work while on furlough.
The enforcement squeeze is ahead of legislation rushed through parliament by the government that will introduce a 90-day amnesty for businesses to repay furlough money claimed ‘in error’ without threat of sanction or penalty.
A whistle-blower portal has also been launched by HMRC that enables employees or members of the public to report suspected fraud under the scheme.
HMRC has confirmed the first arrests for furlough abuse have already been made since it launched the current initiative.
“The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been a lifeline for many property and construction businesses, yet there are reports that it is being abused,” says Andrew Granger, a Partner in the Employment law team at Collyer Bristow.
“HMRC is sending a clear message to businesses – take advantage of this amnesty or face investigation.
“Businesses that do not take advantage of such an amnesty and are later found to have stretched the rules may find themselves under serious investigation and facing fines.”
Collyer Bristow says it is vital that employers retain good and clear records of staff on furlough, particularly as it is now possible to allow staff to return part-time.
Also, employers must have sent written confirmation to employees confirming that they have been furloughed, which must be retained for five years.