Lovely people, the HMRC – completely above criticism in all respects, I have always thought. Just wanted to put that out there in a way obviously wholly unrelated to this week’s news that the Revenue has launched over 12,800 “probes” into misuses of Coronavirus support schemes. The majority of these relate to the CJRS furlough scheme, but as if to prove that there is no such thing as a free lunch even in a restaurant, over 400 of them concern alleged abuse of the eat-out-to-help-out scheme which flowered briefly last year and then withered as infection rates rebounded.
The headlines on this leave a lot unexplained. What is a “probe”, for example, and does HMRC genuinely have the spare manpower to run nearly 13,000 of them on top of its day job? It does also seem clear that these enquiries will not be the last, but are merely the most obvious so far. In addition, as the CJRS continues towards its expiry in September, further instances of error or fraud may still be turned up, especially as the government contribution starts to wind down. Claimed losses to fraud or error of over £3.5 billion represent a whopping target for the Treasury (though it has expressed the view that recovering a third of this in the next two years would still be a result), so we can assume that this represents the start of a pretty long and serious game by HMRC. Remember that it was a requirement of the CJRS that records be kept for a full five years. In relation to the resources question, the government has reportedly invested £100 million and considerable credibility into a specialist Coronavirus fraud task force which already has over 1,200 staff looking into alleged fraud and mistakes in relation to Coronavirus support measures. This is not going to be one of those political initiatives launched to lots of fanfare and headline and then quietly shelved or soft-pedalled when something newer and shinier appears. Continue Reading