A few weeks ago, we reported on some aspects of the UK budget which are likely to have an impact on construction. If you missed it, catch up here.
One thing we didn’t spot was Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a new Taxpayer Protection Taskforce which is set to investigate those who make fraudulent claims through government COVID support schemes such as furlough and the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
With £100m in funding from the Treasury and employing a team of around 1000 investigators, the taskforce represents one of the largest responses to fraud ever made by the tax office. HMRC have already opened approximately 10,000 enquiries and, in some cases begun criminal investigations.
In addition to looking into the abuse of COVID schemes, the government is also planning new measures to address tax avoidance and evasion; raising awareness of enforcement action (to deter fraud); and strengthening law enforcement around Bounce Back Loans. On the latter, the National Audit Office has claimed the government could be facing huge financial exposure due to businesses that won’t be able to pay back the loans or that were not entitled to them in the first place.
David Clarke, Chairman of the Fraud Advisory Panel, described the creation of the new taskforce as “excellent news” and commented: “With the pandemic, it was no surprise at all that fraudsters would seek to attack grants and loans in both the public and private sectors.”
While many construction projects had to close down for a period in the early stages of this pandemic and therefore lots of businesses and workers made legitimate use of the government support schemes, the industry quickly developed safety practices which meant projects could continue and workers were able to return to sites.
Despite this, the word on the construction industry grapevine is that some construction workers who have received SEISS grants are apparently happy to receive the proportion of their wage that the grant pays and are proving somewhat reluctant to pick up their tools again. When there’s a clear offer of work on the table, this perhaps means that some of those SEISS claims of being ‘adversely affected’ by the pandemic might not be quite all that they seem.
With many really hard-working people in our industry, we’re sure this is the minority rather than the norm and whether this kind of activity would be picked up as ‘fraud’ by the new taskforce remains to be seen. The other problem, of course, is that anything which stops people from re-joining the workforce will surely just add to the labour shortages that construction has faced for some years and that’s something we could all do without!
What do you think? Have you seen examples of people not returning to work in construction due to having grant income? Or is this just rumour? Give us your views by commenting on our Facebook or LinkedIn pages.
Feature image: Freepik