Nine firms have re-paid a cumulative €21 million in Covid-19 wage supports to the Revenue Commissioners after voluntarily removing themselves from the Government’s main Covid-19 wage support scheme.
New figures provided by Minister for Finance, Paschal Donohoe also show a further seven other employers voluntarily partially withdrew from the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) and repaid just over €4.5 million.
In a written Dail reply, Mr Donohoe said: “A total of 402 employers have repaid in full all subsidies claimed since the EWSS began, totalling approximately €52 million with an additional 3,331 making partial repayments totalling approximately €54 million.”
Mr Donohoe said a further 860 employers have refunded €10.9 million in Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS) payments after they found that they were ineligible or their business performance was better than they expected when they entered the schemes.
The Minister revealed that Revenue has audited 212 registered companies under the EWSS via their compliance programme to December 31st 2021.
He stated that 77 of these audits have been finalised, yielding almost €1.5 million and 135 are ongoing.
He said: “An additional 5,594 registered employers have been subject to a compliance check under the compliance programme to 31 December 2021.”
“Overall, Revenue has finalised EWSS related interventions with 3,500 employers, recouping €19.2 million, which equates to 0.3% of the total subsidy paid. There are further compliance checks with 2,306 employers ongoing, which will be finalised in due course.
Minister Donohoe stated that Revenue has also completed compliance assessments of employers claiming the EWSS.
He said: “There are currently 60 assessments raised for the amount of €5.1 million of which four have been appealed (to the Tax Appeals Commission) for the amount of €1 million.”
In a series of Dail replies to TDs Ged Nash and Brendan Griffin on the issue, Mr Donohoe stated that the two wage subsidy schemes "are characterised by a high degree of compliance by beneficiary firms”.
He said: “In money terms, the overall support provided to-date by EWSS is over €7 billion comprising direct subsidy payments of €6.12 billion and PRSI forgone of €956 million to 51,900 employers in respect of over 706,700 employees.”
On the issue of companies paying out dividends while claiming the EWSS, Minister Donohoe told Deputy Nash: “It is highly likely that the vast majority of employers who have claimed COVID-19 wage supports have not had the wherewithal to pay dividends during the period of the pandemic.
He added: “It is not readily apparent to me what impact an outright ban on dividend payments, or indeed a cap on such payments, would have had on the employment prospects of those 700,000 employees whose employers have been supported by EWSS payments.”
He added that he will “keep this matter under review and assess if it would be appropriate to introduce any further conditionality into the scheme”.
He said: “This issue requires careful consideration to ensure that businesses that may well be profitable, but are far less profitable than they were in the past, are not precluded from participating in the scheme in the future.”
He pointed out: “Such firms may still require this support to have a viable and successful future. It would be important that any changes are proportionate and would not undermine the overarching policy rationale underpinning the scheme, which is to maintain employment.”
Mr Donohoe pointed out that the eligibility criteria for the wage subsidy schemes did not include any conditions related to the payment by a company of a dividend or dividends to its shareholders.
He said: “Thus, there is no impediment to employers paying dividends to its shareholders and this is a business decision for a company to take based on its financial circumstances.