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Protect back proposals to publish names of firms receiving furlough

Protect backs proposals by spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee for HMRC to publish the names of firms claiming furlough by the end of January, as a way to help stop fraud and abuse of the scheme.

The scheme has paid the wages of more than 9m workers at a cost of £46 billion –  but the HMRC hotline for furlough fraud has received more than 20,000 reports since it was set up. Protect’s Advice Line has also been inundated with calls from whistleblowers over furlough fraud.  

The Public Accounts Committee report, Covid-19: Support for jobs recommends the following:

  • HMRC plans to publish which companies are accessing the extended CJRS (coronavirus job retention scheme) and to directly notify employees when they have been furloughed, something it decided not to implement during the first phase of the scheme between March and October 2020. We welcome this suggestion that it is making some changes to try and reduce the opportunity for fraud to occur
  • HMRC should list companies which have signed up to the furlough scheme by the end of January 2021

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “With billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money going into private companies to support jobs, the least we expect in return is 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. We want to see the list of the companies that have taken furlough money much sooner than that – in the next six weeks.”

Protect backs the proposals put forward by the PAC report into naming firms claiming furlough. Protect Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parsons said, “We believe these measures will increase the likelihood of whistleblowers coming forward and go some way to deterring organisations from making claims fraudulently, as we have seen in some recent cases.

“We also hope it will make more employers aware of what a ghastly situation they are putting their staff in, asking them to break the law by working while they are on furlough leave.”

 Protect worked with the BBC to source a furlough fraud whistleblower, to talk about his experiences of being asked to work while on furlough. He refused, and was sacked.  See the BBC clip

The whistleblower, John, (not his real name) said: “After the anguish of being fired for being honest I looked for help to right the wrongs. Many legal routes were prohibitive or expensive, yet when I spoke to Protect they understood the issues. The helpline allowed me to understand the laws and how best to proceed – they gave me hope during my darkest hours.”

Protect is calling on a duty on employers to prevent detrimental treatment of a whistleblower – so that sanctions on employers for mistreating whistleblowers do not solely rely on individuals bringing claims.