About Â£ 60 billion of taxpayer money has been lost under the government’s job retention program, also known as leave, according to the most recent report from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC ). HMRC admitted that the money was either acquired by crooks, professional fraudsters, organized crime gangs, or allocated incorrectly. As of March 2020, the leave scheme has paid 80 percent of the wages of up to 11.5 million workers put on leave.
In light of this, a scam warning has been issued in light of the perceived increase in leave fraud and its implications for the economy at large.
However, financial experts such as Daniel Martin, commercial crime partner at JMW Solicitors, believe it will be a long time before justice is served.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Mr Martin explained: ‘As with most areas of law enforcement in the UK, resources are generally stretched and HMRC fraud investigations can take a long time, sometimes several years, before going to court.
âThere are a large number of complaints to deal with and many companies under investigation may find that the matter takes much longer than expected before being informed of the outcome they are facing. “
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According to the Times, companies that started operations and businesses during the pandemic have claimed up to Â£ 26.6million from the government’s job retention program.
Concerns have been expressed that these companies could be the main culprits of fraudulent leave requests, but Martin is less certain.
The leave expert added: “There are real reasons why companies were able to form after the program was introduced, so not all of them will be fraudulent.
“But, it is certainly a high risk marker and I would expect most, if not all, of these companies to be subject to some level of investigation by HMRC.”
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Recently, the HMRC launched a task force to specifically investigate businesses and businesses that may have fraudulently requested leave.
Despite the effort, critics believe the tax administration’s efforts are not enough, with just Â£ 16million invested in HMRC’s holiday fraud-hunting efforts.
Mr. Martin said: âThe problem here is one of resources. The government needed to bring money to businesses at a rapid pace in an unprecedented situation where our entire economy was threatened.
âIt meant making money available with very little due diligence and they would have been aware from the start that there was a significant risk of fraud.
âThe numbers involved are shocking; with tens of thousands of fraud reports and estimates of over Â£ 6million in potentially fraudulent taxpayer dollars.
Suzanne Staunton, Employment Partner at JMW Solicitors, explained, âEmployers should make sure they implement a fair process before taking action against employees.
âThe leave plan was notoriously cumbersome and difficult to manage. It may be that managers or employees took action and there was a legitimate or fair reason to take this action.
âTherefore, employers must keep an open mind and conduct a full investigation, taking all factors into account before deciding on the allegations and on the appropriate sanction, if any.
âHowever, if a manager was instrumental in coordinating the fraudulent termination, then they could potentially be penalized as part of their company’s disciplinary process, following a fair process.
âIf an employee was knowingly complicit in this deception, he too could be sanctioned as part of his disciplinary process, following a fair process.
“The employer could potentially recover some financial losses if the employment contract allows it and if the relevant clause is carefully drafted.”