Regulators cracking down on company directors for pandemic fraud
Directors face bans and custodial sentences
According to latest figures, 179 company directors have already been banned by the Insolvency Service from running companies for defrauding government support schemes like furlough and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).
In the year to 31 March 2022, 140 directors were banned, with another 37 banned in April and May 2022. Multinational law firm Pinsent Masons said the Insolvency Service is now “picking up the pace” in investigating and banning directors as more covid-related fraud cases are uncovered
Pinsent Masons added that being banned is one of the lighter punishments company directors can face. Directors convicted of fraud can face custodial sentences, which inevitably impact both them and their families. Directors could also be made personally liable for debts of the company, particularly in cases where they have used business loans for personal spending.
Pinsent Masons partner Andrew Sackey commented: “As the authorities sift through huge volumes of data, regulators are cracking down heavily on indicators of Covid-related fraud.
“Directors who abused Covid support schemes need to carefully consider their options. Often, self-reporting is the best way to mitigate the risk of custodial outcomes.”
Between 1 March 2020 and 31 December 2021, the government gave out a total of £79.3bn in assistance to businesses. Pinsent Masons said the necessary speed with which government support was given, with lighter than normal due diligence checks, was crucial to help companies survive the pandemic.
However, Pinsent Masons said now we are moving beyond the pandemic, authorities are ramping up enforcement action against company directors who misused covid-19 support schemes.
Fraudulent claims on the government’s coronavirus support schemes have cost the taxpayer at least £5bn, according to HMRC.
Fraudulent activity during the pandemic included some directors setting up new companies to claim covid-19 bounce back loans, as well as companies vastly inflating revenue to increase the size of loans they received.
Other fraudulent activity included abuse of the furlough scheme. This includes employers pretending to furlough workers by making claims under the scheme without furloughing staff, making claims for non-existent employees or misrepresenting hours worked to claim as much as possible.
Sackey said: “Authorities like HMRC and the Insolvency Service are now hunting down those who made fraudulent claims. There will be a wave of civil and criminal penalties, including prison sentences.
“The Treasury has already clawed back hundreds of millions from fraudulent or erroneous Covid claims and several arrests have been made, but this is just the beginning. The Government expects to recover billions in the next 12 months. It is taking action on multiple fronts to crack down on fraudsters and bring them to justice.”