Thousands of businesses repay nearly £450m in taxpayer money claimed for staff wages during pandemic
Thousand of businesses have repaid nearly £450million in taxpayer money claimed for staff wages during the pandemic, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
A string of housebuilders, retailers and FTSE100 firms are among those that have handed back millions after successfully shoring up their finances in the crisis.
Campaigners last night welcomed the wave of repayments and called on companies to ‘help rebuild the public finances’ when the economy reopens.
Brighter outlook: Campaigners welcomed the wave of repayments and called on companies to ‘help rebuild the public finances’ when the economy reopens
The news comes after this newspaper revealed companies owned by super-rich individuals with a combined wealth of £19.4billion have taken money from the emergency scheme.
The probe found staff had been furloughed at auction house Christie’s, which is owned by Francois-Henri Pinault, heir to the Gucci fashion empire, who is worth £6.6billion. Firms connected to wealthy landowners Henry Somerset, the Duke of Beaufort, and Richard Scott, the Duke of Buccleuch, have also furloughed staff.
HMRC data reveals 13,126 organisations had returned a total of £446.6million as of February 18. Some £58billion has so far been paid out.
MPs have called on billionaires and tax haven tycoons to return funds to Treasury coffers. Although none of the companies have broken any rules, critics argue that the claims went against the spirit of the scheme.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It’s great to see that many thousands of firms are returning furlough funds.
‘Ultimately this is taxpayers’ money and only intended for those that really need it. These businesses are a good example of what is needed to help rebuild the public finances.
‘Taxpayers will remember the companies that pulled out all the stops and those that didn’t.’
Chancellor Rishi Sunak set up the furlough scheme in March 2020 to incentivise crisis-hit firms to retain staff. The state covers up to 80 per cent of the salary of every employee kept on payroll.
Housebuilders including Barratt, Taylor Wimpey and Redrow have returned furlough money after their sites restarted operations from May 2020 and a cut in stamp duty fuelled property prices.
Halfords said it could afford to repay £10.7million due to a huge surge in cycling in the first lockdown of 2020.
Online fashion giant Asos and Games Workshop, the chain behind Warhammer toys, also pledged to hand back millions after ramping up online sales.