Almost 9,000 voluntary sector organisations were making use of the government’s furlough scheme at the end of last year, according to new figures.
Data published by HM Revenue & Customs shows more 7,200 charities and almost 1,500 community interest companies and societies made use of the scheme in December.
An overall total of 741,285 employers used the furlough scheme over the course of the month, the data shows.
Individual information on the number of employees that were on furlough during the month was not part of the published data.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was launched in April last year and offered grants to UK employers to furlough employees who were unable to work because of Covid-19 restrictions.
Since October, 1.2 million employers had received grants of £41.4bn via the scheme.
Concerns have been raised about significant fraud in the scheme, primarily via employers claiming grants but not passing them on to employees.
HMRC told the Public Accounts Committee last year that up to 10 per cent of grants could have been affected by fraud and error. In addition, the National Audit Office found that nine per cent of surveyed employees reported working illegally while furloughed at the request of their employer.
HMRC said its goal in publishing this data was to deter fraud and help employees spot cases where their employers were failing to pass on furlough cash.
Anna Powell-Smith, founder of the Centre For Public Data, said that although the release of the information was a step in the right direction in terms of transparency, the data was not sufficiently detailed and did not allow for a meaningful analysis.
She said that when HMRC published company numbers alongside the company name it would allow for a more complete picture, because more than one-third of the companies in the HMRC data cannot be linked to Companies House records purely by name.
“The release was significant because there is evidence of organisations accessing the scheme but not passing it on to employees,” she said.
“But I’d really like to see the data on payments prior to December, as it could help reclaim some of last year’s fraud losses.”
David Kane, a freelance data scientist who has worked at 360Giving and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, questioned whether charities were over-represented in the records that could not be matched because they had used their registered charity name.
“So 7,000 is probably an overestimate because of this issue, but an underestimate because there will be some charities in the bits of the data that Anna wasn’t able to match,” he said.
“Hopefully, if they publish a version with company numbers, that would make it a lot easier to find the actual charities.”