Saturday, 24 Oct 2020

Bar manager can’t get benefits because brewery claimed furlough cash in his name

A bar manager claims he has been unable to qualify for hundreds of pounds worth of benefits each month because his former employer claimed furlough money from the government in his name.

Outraged Thomas Bentley from Cardiff claims that Brewmonster Brewery filed accounts to pay him £10,500 over the space of five months during lockdown – even though he had quit the company before the governments Job Retention Scheme had been launched.

The 33-year-old has subsequently been denied benefits of over £600 a month as government documents suggest he benefited form the furlough scheme – introduced to protect those forced to pause work during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Bentley says he worked in a bar owned by Brewmonster Brewery on Cardiff High Street – but left the company in February this year.

When the hospitality industry went in to lockdown the following month, the bar worker discovered the payments he could claim through universal credit were around £600 less than expected.

WalesOnline reports that Mr Bentley contacted the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) where he was shocked to discover Brewmonster had submitted accounts asking to be reimbursed for furlough money the company claimed to be paying him.

Mr Bentley was left with just £215 to pay his rent and bills – but things got worse when his universal credit payments reduced even further each month, and a new investigation had to be launched each time.

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He said: "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.

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"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.”

He claims he endured two months without receiving any income as a consequence of his situation – and said it was only down to having an understanding landlord and the fact he had a bit of savings that he managed to struggle through.

Brewmonster director Glenn White admitted to WalesOnline that "failings in payroll processes" had led to the furlough and universal credit confusion – but denied the mix-up had been intentional.

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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