A bar manager says he missed out on over £600 a month in benefits because his former employer claimed furlough money from the government through his name.
Thomas Bentley from Cardiff says that Brewmonster Brewery filed accounts alleging to have paid him £10,500 over a period of five months despite him having left the company before the Job Retention Scheme was launched.
Brewmonster currently operates two bars in Cardiff, one in Caerphilly and one in Llantwit Major.
The 33-year-old – who worked in the bar on High Street, Cardiff – left the company in February 2020.
However, as the hospitality industry “collapsed” and Thomas tried to apply for universal credit, he found his payments significantly discounted – by around £600 less than he had anticipated.
It was only then, after contacting the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) did he find out that Brewmonster had submitted accounts asking to be reimbursed for furlough money the company claimed to be paying him.
Thomas says that this left him with just £215 a month to pay his rent and bills .
Despite initially thinking he had resolved the issue, his benefits continued to be reduced each month with a new investigation being launched every time.
Brewmonster director Glenn White admitted “failings in payroll processes” but denied it was intentional.
The whole process meant that Thomas said he went “two and a half months without receiving a penny of income.”
“I was expecting a payment at the end of February for the work I’d done in the bar, and was looking for work and so thought it would tide me over for a bit,” he said.
“Obviously none of us knew where things were going but looking at the reaction to coronavirus in other countries I thought our industry was guaranteed to close down.
“A month after lockdown I applied for Universal Credit as my industry had collapsed. When my first statement arrived the sum had been decreased by more than £600, stating that I had received payments from Brew Monster Bars Ltd.
“I’d like to say I was angry, shocked, confused by all of this but in all honesty I felt defeated, depressed, and spent a day in bed staring at the wall, scared of how I would make rent.
“I am so lucky that my landlord is so great and that I had a bit of savings. With the benefit system you have to wait five weeks so you’re already a week behind on your monthly bills.
“As you can imagine how stressful it was to see how much had been reduced because of what somebody else had done.”
Thomas says he fails to understand how the company didn’t notice the payments, amounting to over £10,000 between April and August 2020.
“I went to the HMRC website and looked over my PAYE account. Brew Monster Bars Ltd had filed accounts claiming they had paid me wages every single month throughout the lockdown,” said Thomas.
Thomas says that he would have to launch an investigation with the DWP every month in order to get the money owed.
“Every month I would find my benefit sanctioned, and every month I would have to raise an investigation with the DWP in order to receive monies owed to me.
“’I’m sure you can imagine the stress involved, after all we are all human.”
“In lockdown we have all been feeling depressed and alienated so to think that somebody was going out of their way to do this to you, it’s infuriating.
“I’m lucky that I was in position to manage it, for others it might not have been the case.”
Managing Director of Brewmonster Glenn White said Thomas was not kept on the system intentionally.
He said: “I am aware of these allegations being made by Thomas Bentley, but I can confirm that they are not true.
“I fully accept and admit there have been failings in our payroll processes, but I strongly reject any claims that we kept Thomas on our payroll in an attempt to fraudulently claim Job Retention grants.
“All the amounts that incorrectly appeared on Thom’s PAYE have been removed (a process that started a month ago when the issue was first discovered) and there are no JRS grant claims in relation to these amounts.
“I have reached out to Thom on several occasions since he opted to go public with his accusations. To clarify I had had no contact with Thom for 6 months prior to this.
“His claims of having attempted to contact me, claims that I hung up on him, accusations of threats of violence are all completely false. In fact, I wish Thom had contacted me so that we could have resolved any issues much sooner.
“I had no idea that Thom was experiencing issues with DWP claims, as Thom did not make any efforts to contact me.”
An HMRC spokesperson said: “The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is part of the collective national effort to protect jobs. This is taxpayer’s money and fraudulent claims limit our ability to support people and deprive public services of essential funding.”
“We’d ask anyone concerned that their employer might be abusing the scheme to please contact us.
“Reports can be submitted to us entirely anonymously and everything we receive is assessed and a decision made on the most appropriate course of action. We’re not trying to catch people out – if it turns out to be a genuine mistake then we’ll help put it right, and if it’s more serious then we’ll step in.
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