Hundreds of businesses are suspected of fraudulently claiming government money while pressuring their employees to continue working.
The HMRC confirmed to Sky News that it had received 795 reports from workers concerned about the job retention program.
Charities that support whistleblowers also say they saw a “significant” number of calls. One of them exclusively told Sky News that up to 20% came from people working in the healthcare sector.
The leave scheme is designed to help companies retain employees coronavirus crisis, government paying 80% of workers’ wages up to £ 2,500 per month. But employees on leave are not supposed to do any work for their organization at all.
Asking staff to work while money is claimed is tantamount to fraud and taxpayers will end up paying the multi-million pound bill.
But workers are also victims and many report feeling pressured, threatened and faced with an impossible choice between doing the right thing or potentially losing their jobs.
“James” works in retail on order. We changed his name to protect his identity.
Her boss told her that he was on leave, but repeatedly asked him to come and deliver orders.
When James questioned him, he was told that if he did not do so, the business would close.
“It was like” if you don’t break the rules with me, you won’t get a job “,” he said.
“I am happy to work if necessary, but I want to do it legally.
“It puts you in an awkward position because you know it’s the wrong thing; you shouldn’t get into it, you shouldn’t abuse the leave system, but if i stay there and say what i really think, i’m not gonna get paid, you know you will be unemployed.
“Whenever losing a job would be difficult, but at a time like this, when it will be difficult to get another one, it is really worrisome. “
Workers faced with this situation are encouraged to report their employers to the HMRC, but many are afraid. Some may not even know they have been put on leave.
Protect, a whistleblower support group, said it was “surprised” by the number of calls received.
The majority work for small organizations with fewer than 50 employees, and many are financially vulnerable with low wages.
“We expect this to be just the tip of the iceberg,” said CEO Liz Gardiner.
“In this time of unprecedented change, where people are really worried about their jobs. It’s really hard to stand up and say “I think you are committing employer fraud and I am going to report you.” “
WhistleblowersUK, another support organization, has reported similar trends.
Up to 20% of the calls they have received come from people working in the healthcare sector who have been on leave but have been asked to volunteer, often on reduced wages.
“I am sure employers are in a very difficult situation, not knowing when a bill might be paid,” said founder and CEO Georgina Halford-Hall.
“But to put their employees, who are really dedicated to these people they have come to know in the community, in a position where they have to choose between committing a criminal act, or not having a job, or not being s caring for the elderly they care for is truly a shame, a national shame. ”
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She said that many were too afraid to come forward and that increased whistleblower protection would help.
“Let’s face it, if you have a family and a mortgage and car repayment and who knows what else, what is the incentive to speak under the current policy? There are not any. “
Seven and a half million workers are supported by the leave program, which is now extended until the end of October.
Experts say that given the scale of the program and the speed at which it has been implemented, it is overall a remarkable success.
“We have to remember that millions of people are receiving wages that they otherwise could not have received, the alternative for many of them would be dismissal,” said Karen Teago, labor lawyer and co – general manager of Yess Law.
“Certainly, in labor law, many new regimes, many new pieces of legislation when they arrive, have difficulties.
“It would be impossible to design a perfect scheme and certainly not in just a month.
“Overall, the system appears to be making money for people who would not otherwise be paid and, in these terms, can be considered a success. “
The HMRC has stated that it is “committed to ensuring that the tax systems we operate are used fairly and efficiently and, where appropriate, will take steps to ensure compliance with the relevant rules, regulations and laws that govern the systems British tax authorities ”.
A spokesperson added: “We appreciate all the information provided by members of the public to help us achieve this goal. “
He said any employee reporting workplace fraud would be “completely anonymous”.