Business advisers from the accounting firm Robinson and Co have reminded companies HMRC is actively looking into the legitimacy of support grants, loans and furlough money claimed by businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses must ensure that they are not caught out by retrospective audits, say the advisors, as the UK government looks to review the billions it has spent on initiatives including the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employed income support scheme and support grants and loans.
Peter Ellwood, a managing partner at Robinson and Co, said: “Undoubtedly, some businesses will have been claiming for support that they weren’t entitled to. In some cases, this will be intentional, but in others, it will purely be through honest mistakes made at a time when they were under extreme pressure.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak gave HMRC new powers last year, to investigate businesses believed to have made false claims for furlough or grant payments. In the case of furlough, HMRC is able to reclaim 100% of any funds that have been incorrectly or fraudulently claimed. Examples of abuse of the furlough scheme include backdating claims, asking furloughed staff to continue working, claiming for sick or ex-employees and failing to pass the full amount onto workers.
“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been working with our clients to ensure they access all the help they can, in the correct way, to ensure they avoid any penalties or repayments. However, we’re also on hand to help any businesses that are being investigated by HMRC,” said Peter. “We think, in time, there could be a lot of queries. We can work with clients to show all the workings and evidence, but it does require time, which it is up to them to pay for and that’s where the insurance policy comes in. I would urge any business that has questions to seek advice as soon as possible because, even if you’ve done nothing wrong, engaging professional help could still save you considerable time and money.”