In Brief

Six million furloughed workers ‘broke rules by carrying on working during lockdown’

New study finds that fifth of staff whose wages were paid by government were ‘compelled’ to work by bosses

Almost two-thirds of the 9.4 million workers furloughed during the UK’s lockdown carried on doing their jobs at home, a major new study suggests. 

And about fifth of staff on furlough in April and May were “explicitly compelled” by their bosses to break the rules by continuing to work, according to the researchers.

Under Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme scheme, the government has paid 80% of the salaries of furloughed staff up to a maximum of £2,500 a month, in a bid to save millions of jobs

But a new study by academics at Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich universities reveals “widespread abuse” of the £30bn system, The Mail on Sunday reports.

Surveys of almost 9,000 furloughed workers found that 63% - which equates to around six million nationwide - carried on working, putting in an average of 15 hours of illegal labour a week.

The research reveals that the highest percentage of those who continued to work were people with jobs in computing (44%), while in the information and communication sectors, more than a third of furloughed employees worked from home.

Across the board, workers on higher incomes were more likely to have defied the work ban. 

In a newly published report, the academics conclude that “the prohibition of working whilst furloughed was routinely ignored, especially by men who can do a large percentage of their work tasks from home”.

HMRC investigating fraud 

The Mail on Sunday reports that HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) is currently investigating 8,000 tip-offs to its fraud hotline, having already rejected 30,000 claims considered “dubious”.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee will question HMRC on the issue next month, The Telegraph reports. The committee’s chair, MP Meg Hillier, has called on the department to “urgently get a grip on these issues around fraud of the furlough scheme”.

“Employees are being put in incredibly vulnerable positions and employers need to face tough sanctions for this,” Hillier said. “We know people are trying it on and it’s right they should be tackled.”

Pledging to take “tough action on fraud”, an HMRC spokesperson said: “We are now starting to investigate claims in depth, paying particular attention to Job Retention Scheme claims that are out of step with the payroll data that we hold and drawing on the 8,000 calls that have come into our fraud hotline from members of the public. 

“We have legal powers to recover any money that has been overclaimed and we have already made an arrest in relation to suspected criminal activity.”

The blanket ban on working for employees who had been furloughed ended at the start of July. Employers “could bring staff back to work and claim subsidies for typical hours that they did not work”, as the Mail explains. “From the beginning of this month, employers began making increasing contributions, with the scheme due to end next month.”

The Chancellor has warned of “hardship ahead” for many people when the furlough programme wraps up on 31 October. 

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