As the furlough scheme is in its last week of operation, soon to be replaced by the Job Support Scheme, new research finds that almost 10 per cent of workers who were on furlough were still forced to work by their employer. 

In a new report by the National Audit Office, an independent parliamentary body which scrutinises public spending for parliament, research found that nine percent of furloughed workers were made to work by their boss.

This report also states that 9.6 million jobs were furloughed in the UK, meaning that around 864,000 people were fraudulently working despite claiming money under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

HMRC had previously released details that roughly £3.5 billion of furlough payments were fraudulent or made in error. However, this report also outlines that HMRC predicts to recover £275 million in 10,000 CJRS overpayments that they have classed as high-risk of fraud.

It has also been stated that £278 million has been voluntarily returned by companies who found they either did not need the money CJRS had provided them with or that they took in error.

As the furlough scheme winds down, the National Audit Office predict that two million workers in the UK still remain furloughed (based on employers who were surveyed between 7th and 20th September 2020).

In their findings, the NAO concluded that the Government implemented the CJRS and Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) quickly and ahead of schedule. The initial CJRS payments were initially forecast to be made at the end of April but were able to be paid out on 20th April. Similarly, the SEISS payments were made two weeks earlier ahead of schedule.

However, the NAO did find that the scale of the challenge of implementing these schemes was heightened due to a lack of existing support schemes.

It found that most other countries put schemes into effect faster than the CJRS. Countries like France and Germany were able to do so due to their pre-existing short term work schemes that could simply be adapted rather than made from scratch. This echoes the findings of the Public Accounts Committee which stated there was “an astonishing lack of economic planning for a pandemic”.

However, the NAO continued to state that the schemes have been largely successful in keeping people in employment, with at least 12.2 million people benefitting from them.

However, the body did accept that as many as 2.9 million people were not eligible for the schemes. It also recognised that the Departments were aware there would be a “higher level of fraud and error than normal” due to the rapid speed at which these schemes were instated. The body stated that this fraud was a result of the Government’s “limited controls over employers’ arrangements with employees”.

The NAO recommended that the HM Treasury and HMRC should make several changes in the future including that reliable data should be used that covers as many people as possible in order to determine eligibility. It also advised that there should be increased emphasis on preventative controls to avoid fraud and errors within the new support systems.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said:

It appears that the scale of fraud and error could be considerable, particularly for the furlough scheme.

HMRC could have done more to make clear to employees whether their employer was part of the furlough scheme.

A spokesperson for the Government, said:

The government’s priority from the start of the outbreak has been on protecting jobs and getting support to those who need it as quickly as possible, and our employment support schemes have provided a lifeline to millions of hardworking families across the UK.