Covid: Furlough companies list should be published, MPs urge

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media captionFurlough fraud, a whistleblower’s story

MPs want the government to publish a list of the companies that signed up to the furlough scheme amid concerns money is being lost through fraud and error.

Under the scheme, the government pays up to 80% of staff wages.

"Opportunistic fraud", where furloughed staff continue to work, could be running at between 7% and 34% of cases, the Public Accounts Committee said.

The wages of more than nine million workers have been paid by the government at a cost of £46bn.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee, which is responsible for overseeing government expenditures, wants HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to release a list of employers that have received funding from the scheme by the end of January.

The committee said the Treasury had not been able to give a "ballpark figure" or explain how it would determine whether the spending represented good value for money.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak last week extended the furlough scheme for one month until the end of April and self-employed support is due to continue until the end of January.

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As of October, the furlough scheme and the income support scheme for the self employed had cost more than £55bn.

A further £21bn of taxpayers' money will be paid into the furlough scheme by the end of April next year, the Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated.

Under existing plans, the true scale of the losses will not be known until the end of next year at the earliest.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said full transparency was needed.

MPs also want HMRC and the Treasury to do more to help the estimated 2.9 million workers who have been excluded from both furlough and the income support scheme for the self-employed.

"HM Treasury and HMRC should investigate whether more data within and outside of the tax system could be used to determine eligibility for currently excluded groups and write to the committee within six weeks to explain their findings," the committee said.

"Many workers including freelancers and entrepreneurs have not had a penny and are really struggling as they continue to fall through the gaps."

Meanwhile, the government's hotline for furlough fraud has received more than 20,000 tips since it was set up.

A government spokesperson said: "The furlough scheme has saved millions of jobs and kept businesses in operation.

"We will consider carefully the findings and recommendations of the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) report and respond in due course."

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