// Frasers Group denies forcing staff to work while on furlough
// The retail group said it is in regular contact with tax collector HMRC about its procedures
// Sports Direct was accused of asking furloughed shop managers to shift stock from stores to depots at height of the Covid-19 pandemic
Frasers Group has reportedly insisted that it did not break the rules after staff alleged that the group encouraged them to work while on the furlough scheme.
The group, which owns the likes of Sports Direct and House of Frasers among others, said it is in regular contact with tax collector HMRC about its procedures and has followed regulations, The Telegraph reported.
It came after Sports Direct was accused of asking some furloughed shop managers to shift stock from stores to depots at height of the Covid-19 pandemic due to online demand.
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Finance chief Chris Wootton said at the group’s AGM that Frasers Group has carried out internal procedures and external procedures on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“We are very confident that we have followed the rules,” he said.
However, Frasers Group has not revealed how much money it accepted from the government to put employees on temporary leave when branches were forced to shut during lockdown.
Under the terms of the scheme, it is illegal for furloughed staff to continue working while receiving taxpayer-funded wages.
Mike Ashley, the billionaire tycoon who owns Frasers Group, had committed to keeping stores open despite the March lockdown, saying that Sports Direct was an essential retailer at the time.
However, he quickly u-turned on this statement and issued an apology.
Meanwhile, shareholders approved a bonus programme for staff that could mean employees share £100 million between them, with potential rewards of £50,000 to £500,000 each if they outperform.
The share award plan will pay out if Frasers Group stock hits £10 over the next four years and stays there for consecutive days. Shares were trading at £3.62 on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, Wootton warned on Wednesday that a number of House of Fraser stores will be forced to shut down unless the government reforms the business rates system.
Wootton said the business rates scheme needed to be “fit for purpose”.
Retail stores were given a holiday in business rates payments this financial year, but in April 2021 the system will restart with payments based on valuations from 2015.