Two-thirds of staff placed on furlough continued to work in some capacity, according to a major study.
The study by Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich universities suggests around six million furloughed staff have broken the rules which stated the Job Retention Scheme could only be claimed on the condition that staff carried out absolutely no work for the company.
A third of furloughed workers said they felt 'compelled' to continue working by their employer, whereas others were comfortable with quickly completing an urgent task here and there. One respondent, a carer, was told her patients would receive no other support if she did not work.
On average, those who broke the rules worked an average of 15 hours a week. The Mail on Sunday reported that HMRC has vowed to investigate any allegation of businesses attempting to defraud the scheme. It says it is currently investigating 8,000 tip-offs, and rejected 30,000 claims for the scheme which it deemed suspicious.
The IT sector was the biggest offender, with 44% of workers continuing to work from home. The report said: ‘The prohibition of working whilst furloughed was routinely ignored, especially by men who can do a large percentage of their work tasks from home."
Georgina Halford-Hall, the chief executive of WhistleblowersUK, told the Mail on Sunday: "The most shocking call we had was from a carer who was told they were furloughed, but told to keep working otherwise the people they care for wouldn’t be looked after.
"We also had a group of 15 people working on a building site who were told they had to keep working if they wanted a job at the end of the furlough scheme."
HMRC said: "We are committed to protecting the support schemes against abuse from organised criminal attacks, inflated claims and other non-compliance.
"We are now starting to investigate claims in depth, paying particular attention to claims that are out of step with the payroll data that we hold."