Doncaster recruitment firm faces HMRC probe over furlough fraud allegations

A Doncaster-based recruitment firm could be investigated by HMRC over allegations furloughed staff were told to carry on working and lie about it.

By Darren Burke and Alistair Ulke
Thursday, 11th November 2021, 9:08 am

Brewster Partners has been accused of encouraging staff to “voluntarily work” despite being on the furlough scheme in the early months of the first lockdown.

If they did, it would be in breach of the scheme’s rules, which at the time did not allow furloughed employees to work while claims to supplement their salaries were made.

The company’s managing partner, Nigel Brewster, is the former President of the Doncaster Chamber of Commerce. The firm has offices in Heavens Walk in Doncaster, as well as a number of other locations across the UK.

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Nigel Brewster and Brewsters Partners face a HMRC probe over alleged furlough fraud.

Now, the former chairwoman of the public accounts committee, Dame Margaret Hodge, has written to HMRC asking them to investigate the company.

It comes after a joint investigation by The Times newspaper and BBC File On 4 into the allegations.

Brewster Partners reportedly received at least £70,000 in furlough between December 2020 and June 2021.

It is estimated that based on the number of people working at the company last year, it could have claimed as much as £500,000.

A spokesperson for the company said it “categorically denies any wrongdoing”.

The Government’s furlough scheme funded 80 per cent of normal salaries when employees could not work.

It is feared that the job protection scheme was widely abused, with HMRC estimating that up to £3.5 billion could have been lost to furlough fraud up to August last year.

The Times reported that it had seen records of meetings that appear to show staff being asked to delete LinkedIn posts and to lie if asked by external parties whether they were being furloughed.

Senior staff at Brewster Partners, a company of around 40 people with offices in Doncaster, Sheffield, Leeds and London, allegedly told staff on Zoom calls they could “choose to work” while furloughed, and did not want to “cut people adrift” by not letting them work.

The Times reports that staff were allegedly to delete LinkedIn posts and lie to others about working.

A spokesperson for the company said the allegations had been made by disgruntled former staff and it had commissioned legal firm Knights PLC to investigate the matter.

The company said letters had been sent out in April instructing furloughed staff not to work.

A post on the firm’s website proudly boasts of the firm’s Doncaster links.

It reads: “Doncaster was the very first office for the Brewster Partners group of recruitment agencies and remains the largest office in our network with over 30 desks, a suite of meeting and interview rooms and video conferencing facilities.

“As Doncaster is the home town for many of our partners, directors and consulting team, it seems only natural that our central services operates from here.

“Our partner, Nigel Brewster is the former President of the Doncaster Chamber of Commerce and our business is still an active patron of the chamber. With our long history and large network in the Doncaster area, this office is very much considered ‘home turf’.”