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Protect call for HMRC fraud hotline to reopen

Protect is calling on the HMRC to reinstate its fraud hotline for whistleblowers who are trying to raise public interest concerns about misuse of taxpayers’ money.

Protect, which handles around 3,000 whistleblowing cases to its Advice Line each year – has seen a spike in calls to its Advice Line in recent days on furlough fraud.  We are calling on HMRC to reopen its fraud line for whistleblowers who want to speak out on employers exploiting the Government’s furlough scheme.

HMRC have said its ‘telephone and postal contact are temporarily unavailable because of measures put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).’

Liz Gardiner, Chief Executive, Protect, said: “We are very disappointed HMRC has closed its fraud hotline for people to call and report furlough leave fraud: our experience is that this is a new emerging problem that needs to be tackled.

“Our Advice Line is taking many calls from people about furlough fraud – around 25% of our Covid-19 calls have been around this issue, and the trend is upwards. People have simply been told to work despite being furloughed and they obviously feel uncomfortable about this as its wrong – itis deceiving tax payers out of money. We appreciate the pressure HMRC are under but it may be shortsighted not to have an easy way for whistleblowers to report fraud.”

Information about furlough fraud can be reported via the HMRC online digital reporting service which is available by visiting www.gov.uk and searching ‘Report Fraud to HMRC’. HMRC is currently operating an online reporting tool designed to allow the public to disclose instances of any fraud for which HMRC is responsible, in this instance the Job Retention Scheme.

But Protect argue an online form is not ideal as many people are not comfortable using an online service which cannot give them reassurance about their confidentiality, and people cannot ask questions if they are unsure about something and need advice.

An HMRC spokesman said, “HMRC treats its duty of care to those who report fraud to us as a priority and we have a number of mechanisms set in place to ensure the safety of those individuals.”

HMRC have in place the following:

·Completion of this form (and under normal circumstances contacts made to our fraud reporting telephony service) is entirely anonymous unless the individual reporting wishes to provide contact details for further contact.

·Section 3 of the reporting form is designed to give insight into how widely known the information is and this is used in our assessments when reviewing any risk associated with acting upon information provided.

·All information sent to our fraud teams is sanitised before sharing with compliance/criminal intervention teams to remove any reference to a human source.

·HMRC operate a policy of “Neither Confirming Nor Denying” the existence of a human source in any of our activities.

Whistleblowing on furlough fraud is in the public interest and workers should not be deterred trying to do the right thing by speaking up to stop harm.

Protect’s recently published Principles for Recommended Practice: Better Regulators Guide recommends all regulators have in place a whistleblowing hotline.