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8 September, 2020 Open access

HMRC estimates that up to £3.5 billion in Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme payments may have been due to fraud and error

However, HMRC Chief Executive tells MPs that 'we will be focusing on tackling abuse and fraud' and not trying to find employers who have made legitimate mistakes

HMRC's First Permanent Secretary and Chief Executive Jim Harra has told MPs that up to £3.5 billion in Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) payments may have been due to fraud and error.

Responding to questions on the CJRS from the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, Mr Harra said that HMRC has received around 8,000 calls to its fraud hotline about the scheme, and that it is looking into a further 27,000 cases where CJRS claims appeared to be 'out of step' with information held by the department.

Mr Harra went on to say that HMRC has made an assumption for planning purposes that the level of fraud and error in CJRS payments is between 5 per cent and 10 per cent, amounting to between £1.75 billion and £3.5 billion of the total £35.4 billion spent so far. However, he added that -

'What we have said in our risk assessment is we are not going to set out to try to find employers who have made legitimate mistakes in compiling their claims, because this is obviously something new that everybody had to get to grips with in a very difficult time.

Although we will expect employers to check their claims and repay any excess amount ... what we will be focusing on is tackling abuse and fraud.'

Mr Harra's evidence to the Public Accounts Committee is available from parliamentlive.tv