British employers have voluntarily returned more than £215 million of unwanted furlough scheme payments to the government.
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Data from HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC) indicates approximately 80,433 employers returned money they received under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, either because they received it in error, or because they did not need the full amount.
The scheme was introduced in April to support employers who had to make staffing cuts to survive during the lockdown. Under the scheme, workers placed on leave can receive up to 80% of their wages up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. However, the government urged any businesses who felt they had the means to support themselves to return any unneeded taxpayer cash.
Some of the companies that returned the cash they received under the scheme include Ikea, Games Workshop, the Spectator Magazine, Redrow, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey, among others.
Other companies, including John Lewis and Primark, have also refused to claim money under the Jobs Retention Bonus, another government scheme that promises to pay companies £1,000 for every employee returned from furlough and retained until February.
The latest figures show that as of August, employers have claimed as much as £35.4 billion from the government to support their employees. HRMC claims that the scheme has benefited 1.2 million employers across the UK, protecting the livelihoods of over 9.6 million jobs. However, officials believe that £3.5 billion of this amount may have been mistakenly issued to fraudsters.
While the money returned voluntarily by employers represents only a small fraction of the total amount claimed, the government issued a statement, saying, “HMRC welcomes those employers who have voluntarily returned CJRS grants to HMRC because they no longer need the grant, or have realised they’ve made errors and followed our guidance on putting things right.”
Despite the CJRS' role in partially reviving the UK economy, it is set to wind up by the end of October. Officials have warned of a “tidal wave” of unemployment should the government continue with their plans to end the scheme as planned, and have urged them to consider extending the deadline for the scheme.