Furlough fraud has suffered a rise in recent weeks, with the government now receiving close to 1,900 reports of fraudulent use of the Job Retention Scheme established by the Treasury. At present, the Treasury is offering 80 percent of an employee’s salary up to £2,500 per month, enabling them to be retained by their employer amid the crisis. However, in return, government rules dictate an employee must not work for their employer during this furlough period.
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Recent research, though, has found many companies are exploiting the scheme to gain money while still forcing their employees to work.
The legal rights app Lawya.com has found just over one in three employees on furlough is currently under pressure to continue working while on furlough.
Under the current rules, employers who are found to have furloughed staff can face charges of fraud.
HMRC has now said it will go after all company directors who deliberately flout the rules, and they could face hefty penalties or charges.
The research, which surveyed 2,000 workers in the UK, showed people were being pressured in numerous ways.
Out of those asked, 27 percent said they were asked to send and respond to emails, with 17 percent asked to make phone calls.
The research also showed 12 percent are being pressured to attend their workplace physically, and 11 percent to work for the company as a “volunteer” – a process which is also considered to be against the law.
But there are also disparities to be noted between different groups of people throughout the UK.
The research revealed men are 50 percent more likely to be pressured than women, with those under 45 nearly twice as likely to be pressured than their over 45 counterparts.
One woman revealed her experiences with being pressured to continue working, and feared she would lose her job otherwise.
Speaking anonymously, she said: “I know if I’m not useful to my employer in some way, and they are struggling financially, it makes sense for me to be the first to be let go.”
Nearly nine million people have been affected by the furlough scheme according to recent HMRC data.
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But the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has recently announced the scheme is likely to cost far less than originally estimated.
OBR figures have been revised down by 30 percent, from £84billion to £60billion in what appears to be good news for the government and employees.
But as the scheme is extended, there still remains concern about the scheme being exploited.
HMRC has urged people who have experienced furlough fraud to contact them through the HMRC Fraud Hotline information report form.
The whistleblowing charity, Protect, has also encouraged people to report cases anonymously.
Referring to the data, Charlie Morton, the founder of Lawya, said: “The findings of the research are hugely concerning, with pressure being placed on a substantial number of furloughed employees during an already difficult time. Sadly, this issue is only set to get worse.
“With more than one in four employers expecting to make redundancies and more than half of employees fearing they will lose their jobs, we are transitioning to an employers’ market.
“Employees’ rights are likely to be under threat as work becomes increasingly sought after. The opacity of the world of law is once again failing real people.”
Jim Harra, the chief executive of HMRC, previously stated it was highly likely the scheme would be exploited – by both employers and organised criminals.
However, Mr Harra stated HMRC had struck an appropriate balance between protecting the Treasury from abuse, and providing help to those who need it as quickly as possible.
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