British companies have returned more than half a billion pounds worth of furlough cash that they should not have claimed, or did not need, the Government has disclosed.
HM Revenue and Customs said that companies had returned hundreds of millions through voluntary paybacks.
“In the context of error overall so far, we’ve had around £504 million made in terms of voluntary disclosures and corrections, including people who were entitled to the grant and decided to pay it back,” said HMRC director general of customer compliance Penny Ciniewicz
About £12 million of claims were blocked by HMRC before the money was paid out.
This stopped some of the criminal attacks against the system that would have otherwise happened, she told MPs on the Treasury Select Committee.
Only between 0% to 0.6% of furlough claims fall into the criminal attack category, Ms Ciniewicz said.
HMRC currently has about 5,700 open investigations into risky claims, about 2,000 of those follow reports to HMRC’s fraud hotline.
But the department’s boss, Jim Harra, said that he thought some of the worries were exaggerated.
“There have been significant concerns raised about whether there is abuse of the scheme going on, which I suspect are sometimes overstated, but are in some ways driven by a lack of knowledge,” he said.
The Government has said that it is planning to publish the names of all companies that claim money under the new job retention scheme, which launched last month.
About £43 billion has been claimed by more than one million companies across the UK to support the salaries of their workers since the pandemic began.
The scheme will last until March, after it was extended as restrictions were increased because of a second wave.
HMRC estimated that about 5% to 10% of the furlough money might have been paid out in “fraud and error”. The error is companies submitting incorrect claims.