HM Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs worked together from March 2020 to roll out job support rapidly for employees and the self-employed. They put in place financial support for businesses and employees within weeks of the national lockdown, and ahead of schedule, by creating the Coronavirus Job Support Scheme (CJRS) for businesses and their employees, and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) for the self-employed. We commend the hard work of both Departments and their staff in implementing the schemes at such pace and ensuring that help got to people quickly. By 18 October 2020 those two schemes had cost over £55 billion. However, the Departments could have done more to widen access. A combination of policy decisions, limitations in the data held in the tax system and the Departments’ prioritisation of implementing the schemes rapidly means that as many as 2.9 million workers may have been excluded from CJRS and SEISS.
Despite putting the schemes in place again for the second national lockdown in the autumn, the Departments have not developed their methods for determining eligibility since the first schemes to make sure that assistance gets to all those who need it. They have undertaken limited evaluation of the impact of the schemes on different groups of workers, including those with protected characteristics, and little work to widen access to the schemes. And we are concerned that HMRC still does not know the actual level of fraud and error in the schemes and will not have a complete estimate until the end of 2021 at the earliest. Although there will be uncertainty as to how many people will take up these schemes over the next few months, we are similarly concerned that HM Treasury is unable to provide even a ballpark figure for the expected cost despite already extending these schemes, or explain how it will determine whether the money has been well spent.