Figures released from Treasury on the 14th June show that over 9.1 million people’s wages are now being paid under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, with claims expected to have already cost the taxpayer nearly £21bn.

Despite saving over 9 million workers from unemployment, HMRC’s CEO, Jim Harra, suggested today that the scheme had also been a ‘magnet for fraudsters’.

Businesses who are found to have breached the rules accidentally may be asked to pay back the funding that they received and those who are found to have purposely breached the rules could face a prison sentence for violating international fraud.

Under the current rules, employees must be furloughed for a minimum continuous three-week period. From the 1 July employers will be able to flexibly furlough their employees previously registered with the scheme and bring them back to work for any amount of time, and any work pattern – only claiming for the hours they do not work.

Over the last 6 weeks, Shropshire Chamber (through its weekly Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker) found that on average, around 70% of Shropshire based businesses had furloughed a proportion of their staff. It is without question, that this scheme has been a life-line to many of our members who may have struggled to stay afloat without government support.

Shropshire Chamber understands the importance that the furlough scheme has had on businesses from across the county and although serious fraud must be stamped out and dealt with in accordance to the law, we urge the government to be understanding when dealing with those who may have accidentally filed false claims, given the context surrounding the recent crisis.