Nearly one in 10 workers placed on the furlough scheme have been asked to work by their boss, a National Audit Office (NAO) report has revealed.
According to HMRC this rule-breaking could cost taxpayers an estimated £3.9bn ($5.1bn).
The coronavirus job retention scheme was first announced by the government on 20 March, followed by the self-employment income support scheme a week later, as part of its economic response to the COVID-19 crisis.
The schemes were put in place to provide financial support to businesses and individuals in the wake of the pandemic in a bid to protect jobs.
However, the NAO said as they were brought in at breakneck speed that “considerable levels of fraud and error” were likely.
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A recent NAO survey, conducted by Ipsos Mori, found that 9% of respondents who reported being furloughed had carried out work at the request of their employer.
An additional 6% reported that they had chosen to work despite not being asked, while 4% of respondents who had not worked said that their employer had paid them less than 80% of their pay.
The NAO said that the fraud hotline set up by HMRC received more than 10,000 reports.
The coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme cost up to a total of £52.7bn up to 20 September.
More than 9.6 million workers on leave have received 80% of their salaries through the job retention scheme, in full or part by the government, while another 2.6 million were helped through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.
It will be replaced by a new job scheme from 1 November.
Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said: “Indications are that the schemes helped to protect jobs in the short-term, but it is also clear that many other people have lost earnings and have not been able to access support.
“It appears that the scale of fraud and error could be considerable, particularly for the furlough scheme. HMRC could have done more to make clear to employees whether their employer was part of the furlough scheme. In future, the Departments should do more while employment support schemes are running to protect employees and counter acts of fraud.”
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