Martyn Dobinson, partner at Saffery Champness and a member of the firm’s Landed Estates and Rural Business Group, has warned that farming and rural businesses should expect HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to pursue those that have wrongly claimed through the government’s Covid-19 support schemes, such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), whether those incorrect claims have been made through simple innocent error or deliberate falsification.
“The farming and rural sector will be no different to any other, as HMRC investigates erroneous payments made through the government’s Covid-19 support mechanisms. There will be no flexibility afforded to rural businesses struggling with issues such as uncertainty over future subsidies, harvest yields, costs of imports and changing markets.
“As of September, HMRC estimate that between 5% and 10% of payments made under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) have been made in error or fraudulently claimed – potentially a massive £3.5 billion to date.
“HMRC has said that where employers think that they may have claimed in error, they should check their claims and repay any excess amounts claimed. Where employers who have made a genuine mistake take this opportunity to rectify those errors, then it is unlikely that any further action will be taken. However, where HMRC is required to take action, this may result in considerable time needed to deal with any issue, and potentially result in interest payments and penalties due.
“HMRC has apparently identified 27,000 ‘higher risk’ claims through the CJRS, which don’t look quite right, and have written, or will be writing, to 11,000 of those employers advising that they have concerns. These letters don’t pinpoint the suspected issue, so businesses will need to examine their claims to ensure that everything has been properly accounted for.
“With an ever-increasing focus on fraud and abuse of the tax system, it seems likely that there will be similar forensic investigations into potential false and erroneous claims through the government’s other support schemes, such as the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. Claimants would be well-advised to undertake an audit or health check of any claims that they have made.”