Covid cover-up: HMRC refuses to reveal names of companies who benefited from £41billion furlough cash during first lockdown due to confidentiality laws

  • McDonald’s, British Airways and Nissan were among the firms to use furlough
  • Rishi Sunak’s wife’s luxury clothing firm furloughed staff in London in March 
  • Firms using scheme now can be named, but not those who used it in first wave

HMRC has refused to name all of the companies who benefited from £41bn in furlough cash support during the first lockdown, citing confidentiality laws.

A Freedom of Information request to name each company to use the wage support scheme in the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic has been refused.

Business giants including McDonald’s, British Airways, Nissan and Wetherspoons all signed up to the scheme, while others received millions of pounds in error.

Last week chancellor Rishi Sunak was accused of failing to declare his wife’s Akshata’s luxury clothing firm, which furloughed staff in London during the first months of the pandemic.

HMRC can name the companies benefiting from the furlough scheme during England’s second lockdown, which starts on Thursday, but those who used it during the first wave will remain anonymous. 

According to the latest data available, 38,700 employers were furloughing 115,700 employees on August 31.  

HMRC has refused a Freedom of Information request to share the names of companies who used the Government’s furlough scheme in the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic

There are calls for greater transparency from HMRC.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, told Press Gazette: ‘I would like to see the government publish a list of the companies which received furlough money. 

‘Where taxpayers’ money is being used, transparency should be a given. HMRC must act now to minimise fraud and error and ensure that taxpayers do not pay time and time again in the years to come.’ 

HMRC said it cannot name companies that used the scheme under Section 23(1) of the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Act 2005.

Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata’s luxury clothing company, which supplies Eton, furloughed staff in London at the start of the pandemic

British Airways furloughed thousands of staff as the coronavirus pandemic grounded flights earlier this year. HMRC says it will name any companies that use the furlough scheme over the next month, but cannot name previous users

The legislation makes it a criminal offence to wrongfully disclose the revenue and customs of any companies, trusts and charities.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information’s Maurice Hinkel told the website: ‘On the whole it isn’t a matter of great tax confidentiality and there is a strong public interest in knowing how the provisions are being applied at the moment but the way in which the FoI Act and the statutory provisions are drafted just rules that out.’

Figures released by HMRC in September revealed more than 80,000 employers returned around £215million to the Government in furlough payments they either no longer needed or received in error. 

Some of the money was returned, while other companies simply claimed smaller payouts the next time they were given furlough cash. 

Housebuilders Redrow, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey have both said they returned all the furlough money they had claimed.

They were joined by Bunzl, Ikea and many others.

But many of the country’s biggest employers took advantage of the scheme, which saw the Government subsidise 80 per cent of staff salaries.

Some companies, including Ikea, have given furlough payments back to the Government after they received them in error. Figures from September revealed revealed more than 80,000 employers returned around £215million

McDonald’s, British Airways, Wetherspoons, and Topshop owner Arcadia furloughed 135,000, 30,000, 43,000 and 14,500 staff respectively, as lockdown hit High Streets and the aviation industry hard. 

News that many companies who used the scheme earlier this will not be released, comes amid mounting economic pressure on the Government. 

Former Tory Party deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft is set to release Going For Broke: The Rise Of Rishi Sunak later this month.

The book details how Mr Sunak is coping with the devastating impact lockdown has had on Britain’s economy.

The Treasury and Cabinet Office backed Mr Sunak as a new book raised questions over his failure to publicly declare that his wife is a director of a luxury clothing store which received furlough payments earlier this year

It left the Chancellor of the Exchequer facing questions over his failure to publicly declare the fact that his wife is a director of a luxury clothing store which received money under the Treasury’s multi-billion-pound furlough scheme. 

The Treasury said Mr Sunak had followed ministerial code ‘to the letter’.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial interests has confirmed that he is completely satisfied with the propriety of arrangements and that appropriate measures have been put in place where necessary to avoid any conflict of interest.’  

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