UK takeaway chain Papa John’s is investigating allegations that taxpayer money was fraudulently claimed during Eat Out to Help Out.
Papa John’s franchise Rachel Choudhury claimed more than £ 250,000 in non-existent meals during the program, the Daily Mail claims.
Mr. Choudhury denied all the allegations.
He told the BBC: “We are confident that we are fully complying with the standards set by the government.”
Papa John’s GB Ltd said it was investigating the allegations “thoroughly”.
“We would be extremely concerned and disappointed if they were found to be correct. All Papa John’s UK stores are run by franchisees and we have made clear to all franchisees that we felt they were unlikely to be eligible to participate in Eat Out To,” said a spokesperson for the BBC. “.
“It is important that our investigation be completed fully before any conclusions can be drawn, but if any of the franchisees improperly participated in EOTHO, they would have violated their franchise agreement with us, and we will ask them to rectify things.”
The Mail said it conducted its investigation with the help of several whistleblowers who worked in Mr. Choudhury’s stores.
The newspaper claims that Mr. Choudhury ordered employees to process thousands of counterfeit meals under the scheme across 57 of the 61 branches he owned, resulting in a false claim in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.
In one incident, The Mail claims 13 orders were processed in less than a minute at the Tunbridge Wells branch, despite telling employees that it is forbidden to eat in the store, which has no tables.
Branch managers are alleged to have scored goals ranging from 500 to 600 pounds a day for stores with sales under £ 10,000 a week, or a goal of 1,000 pounds a day for larger subsidiaries with a turnover of more than £ 10,000 a week.
The newspaper added that Mr. Choudhury had instructed his employees to record payments made by “fake covers” as voucher payments.
A representative for Mr. Choudhury disputed the value of the claims filed under the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, stating that it was £ 185,015 and not the alleged £ 250,000.
“Of the 61 franchises I have, 40 have seating capacity, and we have implemented the ‘Eat Out to Help Out Scheme’” program in all of those 40 stores Monday through Wednesday throughout August.
“All customers who benefited from the program had eaten in store, and we are confident that we were in full compliance with the standards set by the government.
A representative for Mr. Choudhury said the Eat Out to Help Out scheme accounted for 9% of all requests in August.
“When the government scheme ended, we continued our discount offer in September,” said Mr. Choudhury.
On average, Choudhury said his stores saw an average of 32 customers per day across 40 stores that took part in the scheme in August.
However, the BBC understands that the franchisees have received clear instructions from Papa John’s GB Ltd that the franchise will not participate in the scheme.
Franchisees are bound by agreements that require them to follow all guidelines issued by Papa John’s GB Ltd, in addition to adhering to and meeting ethical standards and regulatory obligations.
It is also understood that the digital tillage software, frequently updated remotely by the head office, never included a Eat Out to Help Out chart voucher button, and the scheme could not be used on the Papa John’s UK website either.
A spokesperson for HMRC said: “It is our duty to protect taxpayer money and we will not hesitate to take action against those who try to violate the rules.
“We have included checks in the Eat Out to Help Out scheme to prevent fraud and protect public funds, we will verify claims and take appropriate action to withhold or recover payments that are found to be dishonest or inaccurate.
“Anyone who is concerned that an organization is misusing the scheme can report the fraud to HMRC.”