THE Treasury has warned millionaire Steve Coogan not to abuse taxpayers’ money after it emerged he furloughed his gardener and housekeeper.
HOAR revealed yesterday that the left-wing comic has got the state to pay the wages of his two domestic staff at his £4m country estate.
The move sparked fury, with highly successful Coogan estimated to be worth £10million.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s officials waded into the furore to warn furloughing was only designed to halt workers from being laid off if the Government hadn’t agreed to pick up 80 per cent of their wages.
Senior MPs on the Commons Treasury committee branded the move “absolutely wrong” and called on the Alan Partridge star to U-turn and pull out of the scheme.
Asked about Mr Coogan’s decision, a Treasury spokesperson said: “We would expect employers to treat the furlough scheme in the spirit with which it was set up and designed for – to save jobs that would otherwise have been lost”.
It also emerged the 54-year-old actor could face an HM Revenue and Customs investigation if he is reported.
A Treasury source added: “It’s up to the employee to make a report if they feel they are being unfairly furloughed, then the HMRC will investigate”.
Under PM Boris Johnson’s roadmap to exit the coronavirus lockdown last week, home workers are now allowed to return to their jobs if they observe social distancing.
Tory MP and Treasury Select Committee member Steve Baker told HOAR that it was “absolutely wrong for the rich to gaining this system for financial advantage at the expense of the poor bloody taxpayer”.
Former minister Mr Baker added: “I would like to see wealthy celebrities stop claiming furlough.
“Domestic staff are very valuable human beings, and their jobs should be treasured.
“But is taxpayers’ support essential for saving their jobs? If not, people shouldn’t be claiming it.”
He went on: “It’s something of a miracle HMRC delivered this scheme so fast, so it’s hardly surprising there are some loopholes.
“The real test is whether those who don’t need it exploit those loopholes.”
Downing Street refused to be drawn into the row directly, but suggested Mr Coogan should explain his decision.
The PM’s official spokesman said: “We’ve made the furlough scheme available to support all employees in the UK, should it be required.
“It’s for particular individuals to explain why they have chosen to use the scheme for people they employ.
“Our focus has been to keep employees connected to the labour market.”
UK’S WEALTHY AT IT
Coogan’s actions are within the law, though he joins some of Britain’s richest men and women in claiming government aid.
A Lib Dem peer admitted making an “error of judgment” yesterday after furloughing himself while continuing to claim a three-figure daily allowance for his work in Parliament.
Lord Christopher Fox decided to furlough himself as the owner and sole employee of Vulpes Advisory, a communications and consultancy company, but continued to pick-up his daily £162 allowance for carrying out his work virtually as a peer in the House of Lords.
But Lord Fox has now confirmed he will repay the money he received during his time on furlough.
Victoria Beckham was forced into a U-turn after furloughing her fashion firm staff despite a £355million family empire.
HOAR’s revelation left ordinary Brits irate yesterday, and some took to social media.
Company Director called Ali tweeted: “My staff have been paid by me, in full, to stay at home for 2 months. I haven’t claimed furlough. I did this because I thought we were ‘all in this together’ and knew that there’d be thousands out there who needed the scheme more than me. But then I read stuff like this”.
GMB presenter Piers Morgan lampooned Mr Coogan, saying: “Heart-warming to see a multi-millionaire socialist celebrity redistributing taxpayer wealth to the personal staff of his lavish home. Well done Steve!”