Severe warning to those who abuse the leave system

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The HMRC chief executive has admitted that the government’s Covid-19 discharge system is likely to attract criminals in the hopes of exploiting it.

Jim Harra said at a Treasury Committee hearing on the economic impact of the coronavirus that there are a number of risks of abuse that will need to be managed as part of the program.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced this program last month, which allows employees to receive 80% of their salary through a subsidy while they are not working, to avoid layoffs.

Harra told MEPs, “We believe that the vast majority of employers and employees will use this program responsibly and indeed need it for their support.

“But there is a wide range of risks of abuse that we need to manage and we will do our best to do so, but we depend to some extent on the people who provide us with information.

“But we would also have the right afterwards to enter and verify the accuracy of a statement.

“For example, we could look for evidence that someone was working during a period when he was not supposed to be.

He continued, “Any scheme involving the payment of money, I fear, attracts criminals who wish to exploit it and, of course, the risk that those who are truly entitled to it will inflate their claims.

“I think we have four levels of protection against all of this.

“First of all, in the design of the regime’s policy, there is a certain protection, the requirement that it concerns the people who were on the payroll on February 28 is a key protection for us there , because it means existing pay systems and existing employees, we have data on that.

“Second, we have protection on the online service where you must have credentials to use the service and make a complaint, so will only be open to people we know are employers, this is the second protective line.

“A third is the ability for people to contact us and let us know if they have evidence of abuse, and fourth downstream, we can initiate an audit. “

Harra also said that a reduction in working hours was not enough to be eligible for the scheme.

“In order for an employee to qualify for the leave program, he must be on full leave for at least three weeks,” he said.

“So it is not enough to have reduced their working hours, they must be put on leave completely.

“The goal of this program is to protect people from layoffs, which otherwise would have happened to them, so that they can return to work quickly with their current employer once the epidemic is over.

“It is not intended to give an advantage to people whose hours have been reduced, but there is obviously the social protection system that is available to help people in these circumstances. “

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