Monitoring the bailout

Monitoring the bailout

16 June 2020 – Alex Dunnagan

In response to the Coronavirus crisis, the government has made a huge and unprecedented intervention into the economy, providing vast amounts of assistance to the business sector. The comprehensive nature of the support has meant that some awards have attracted controversy, and this has prompted calls for the government to make support conditional on past or future behaviour. There is also no doubt that the large scale of the intervention will lead to a long lasting impact on the shape of the economy.

In order to better understand this impact, our recent report, “Paying in Equally”, suggested that the government make all data available to the public on which companies are accessing support schemes and on what terms. This would allow the public to better understand how the government is spending taxpayer money, and the issues raised by how these schemes are administered. It would also allow for the easier detection of fraud.

The Treasury has recently published the companies that have received the Bank of England’s Coronavirus Corporate Financing Fund (CCFF), which it intends to update on a weekly basis. Publishing this data is a good start, however, this fund represents a small part of the overall funding package. There are currently no plans to publish data on which companies have been receiving cash to furlough their staff or aid from any other government schemes.

Over the last few months we have been tracking where taxpayer money has gone, and recording which companies have been receiving government assistance. In the absence of any public data, we have been reliant on either press statements, stories in the media, or help from members of the public who have used our bailout tracker. With almost half of UK businesses accessing government support, we do not pretend that our list is in any way comprehensive. 1

Listed below is a selection of ten industries that have either received or are lobbying for government financial assistance throughout this pandemic, and some of the issues that have been raised by the Covid-19 bailouts. This provides a narrative of government support during the pandemic and covers all aspects of the bailout, the good and the bad.

In addition to this, there have been incidences where support from the government for specific companies has proved controversial because of the tax practices of the owners of the company or the owners themselves. These controversies have led to calls for the government to restrict support to companies with good tax conduct. In many countries, companies have been refused money if are incorporated in tax havens.

The tax controversies surrounding the Covid-19 bailout fall into three broad categories.

  1. There are companies which are incorporated in the UK, but which are substantially owned by tax exiles or tax haven companies.
  2. There are companies which have a known history of tax avoidance themselves.
  3. There are some cases, such as supermarkets, where there has been no poor tax conduct by the companies or owners themselves, but questions have been raised as to whether tax breaks given to the sector have been overly generous.

Below we present a table of companies which raise some of these issues, along with a link to the evidence of the company receiving subsidy. This is a live table and is updated as and when we pick up on issues, and when we are alerted to them by members of the public.

All of the businesses included in the table are legally entitled to claim the Government support, and TaxWatch is not accusing any of the aforementioned businesses of failing to pay UK taxes. Should a spokesperson for any of the businesses or individuals mentioned wish to contact us, please email

The story of Covid-19 bailouts in the UK by industry sector


With the message from the government to stay at home, and countries around the world closing their borders, transport was always going to be one of the industries most severely impacted by Covid-19.

Given this, there were eyebrows raised when at the beginning of the epidemic in Europe, EasyJet pressed ahead with a £174m dividend. Of this payment, £60m went to the founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou. The airline has made shareholder payouts of more than £1.8bn since 2012.2

The low cost airline went onto secure a £600m loan from the Covid Corporate Financing Facility, the terms of which remain confidential. EasyGroup, based in the UK, owns a 33 per cent share in easyJet.3 EasyGroup is owned by EasyGroup Holdings based in the Cayman Islands, which is ultimately owned by the Sir Stelios Trust, also based in the Cayman Islands. Sir Stelios is resident in Monaco.

Sir Stelios is not the only Billionaire tax exile based airline owner to have hit the headlines. Sir Richard Branson has lobbied the UK Government to bailout Virgin Atlantic to the tune of half a billion pounds. Public outrage has focused on the fact that while Virgin Atlantic is headquartered in the UK, Branson has paid no personal income tax since moving to the British Virgin Islands in 2006.

After having been denied a request for a loan, Sir Richard has since announced that he is to sell $500m in Virgin Galactic shares to prop up the rest of the group.4 The shares account for just over a fifth of his stake in Virgin Galactic.

At the beginning of the crisis there was some optimism that after a short lockdown to crush the disease, we would be able to return to near normal conditions. Now airlines are realising that they are in for a long haul.

British Airways, which has furloughed more than 30,000 staff at 80 per cent of pay, at first said that it would not be requesting any government loans as it had enough cash to weather the crisis. It has now changed its position, seeking £900m from the Spanish Government and £300m from the UK. The airline has also announced it is to make 12,000 workers – one quarter of its workforce – redundant, anticipating a long term drop in demand resulting from the crisis. Engine maker Rolls Royce has taken a similar view, announcing plans to cut 9,000 jobs globally.5

With most planes grounded, airport revenue has taken a hit. Heathrow attracted controversy after it was accused of using the furlough scheme as a threat to discipline employees who did not want to accept a pay-cut. The airport told staff that they would be furloughed if they did not accept the cut to pay, and would then be made redundant when the scheme came to an end. Local councils in Manchester, which are the majority owners of Manchester Airports Group, have come to the rescue of the company which owns Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports, handing over additional funding of £260m.6

Back at sea level, ferry companies have also been accused of giving payouts to shareholders whilst taking government cash.

P&O Ferries is cutting a quarter of its workforce while using the Job Retention Scheme to furlough 1,400 workers. The ferry company also unsuccessfully applied to the UK Government for £150m in state aid. At the same time the owner of P&O, DP Worldwide, has paid out a £270m dividend to its shareholders.7 A DP World spokesman said the dividend is part of the delisting process, and the company is legally obligated to pay it. DP World is based in a free zone in Dubai where companies are exempt from tax.

After £35m was given to passenger ferry operators, CldN – one of the biggest freight operators in Europe – sent legal letters to the Department for Transport claiming the cash aid was illegal under European law.8 The Telegraph reported that the subsidy was unnecessary and instead provided the passenger ferry operators with a financial competitive advantage over their freight rivals.


Supermarkets are playing a key role throughout this crisis, and we should be thankful for those working in the industry. However, there can be no doubt that for supermarkets, the crisis is good for business. Sales are through the roof. British grocery sales rose by 14.3% during the 12 weeks to 17 May, the fastest rate since records began in 1994.9

Supermarkets haven’t required access to the furlough scheme. While they haven’t lobbied the government for any relief, supermarkets have been awarded a business rates holiday worth £3bn.10 Shortly after this announcement, Tesco paid its shareholders a £635m dividend, leading some to question whether the business rates holiday was really necessary 11

Manufacturing / Heavy Industry

Building a digger is not work that can be done from home. As a result, many factories have had to close and are seeking government support. However, there has been some concern that this has resulted in billionaire industrialists receiving state handouts without the need to dip into their own substantial wealth.

Construction manufacturer JCB has furloughed the vast majority of its 6,500 staff. It is owned by Lord Bamford, 74, whose family wealth sits at £4.7 billion. JCB was previously controlled by a couple of Bermuda trusts, a structure which held up Lord Bamford’s peerage. The structure has now been brought onshore.

Another billionaire industrialist with a more ambiguous relationship with offshore is Sir Jim Ratcliffe, owner of Ineos, who has a personal fortune of £12.15bn. In 2019 The Guardian reported that Sir Jim had planned to move his residency to tax-haven Monaco to save on income tax, although he has denied that he went through with the plan.12 Ineos has moved to Switzerland to avoid UK corporation tax in the past but moved back when tax rules were changed. One part of the Ineos group, Petroineos, a joint venture with PetroChina, has been in talks with the Scottish and UK governments seeking as much as £500m in bailout cash.

The immediate parent company of Petroineos is Petroineos Trading Limited, a company incorporated in Jersey.


The hospitality sector has effectively ground to a halt, with hotels and restaurants closed across the country. Many businesses in this sector have been claiming for furlough, with others seeking government loans. Hospitality is also able to benefit from the same business rates holiday that supermarkets do.

In addition to being a plastics magnate, Sir Jim Ratcliffe also co-owns the hotel chain Pig Hotels. The CEO of Pig Hotels has written to the Prime Minister requesting further support from the government.13 The hotel chain had already furloughed 782 staff and received £4m from the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Pig Hotels is still planning to expand, intending to open a luxury country retreat complete with a vineyard in Sussex next year.14

Another luxury resort seeking government aid is the Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle in Scotland, where Madonna and Guy Ritchie married in 2000. The resort has furloughed its staff, and is not topping up their salaries past the 80 per cent, the Daily Record reports.15 The club, which costs £30,000 to join, was bought in 2003 by Irish-American private equity businessman Ellis Short who is worth £1.36bn. The parent company of Skibo Castle is Bermuda registered Scytherbolle Limited.

Other offshore billionaires in the hospitality sector are the Reuben brothers, worth £16bn according to this year’s Rich List. It’s reported that they have furloughed around 750 staff at their racecourses and pubs.16 The younger brother, Simon, has lived in Monaco for almost 20 years, while the elder brother David is said to split his time between Monaco and Florida.17

David Reuben isn’t the only billionaire with UK hospitality interests that spends a considerable amount of time in Florida. It was reported in April that The Trump Organization, of President Trump fame, was seeking bailout money in both the United Kingdom and Ireland to furlough employees, keeping the loss making golf resorts afloat.18 The UK furlough scheme pays 80 per cent of a workers salary, while in Ireland it is 70 per cent (both are capped at an upper limit). It is not clear if the business was intending to top the salaries up.

Since becoming president, Trump has retained his financial stake in the business, with his sons assuming executive control. The Trump Organization has been specifically excluded from receiving support in the US, and has made roughly 2,000 employees redundant.19


British retailers have access to a bailout package of reliefs, grants, and loans, though the British Retail Consortium has warned that this is not enough.20 With the lockdown closing all but non-essential retailers, retail understandably needs financial assistance. However, many large chains owned by high net worth individuals have seen tens of millions – and in some cases billions – taken offshore.

Sir Phillip Green has furloughed 14,500 of the 16,000 staff who work for Arcadia Group, which includes Topshop, Topman, Burton, Miss Selfridge and Dorothy Perkins. Arcadia is owned by Green’s wife, Tina, whose residency in Monaco means that she is not required to pay UK tax on dividends. The Green family took a £1.2bn dividend from the company in 2005.21

It was reported in March that Arcadia Group was planning to defer the deficit recovery contributions agreed with the Pensions Regulator in 2019.22 The company is due to pay £25m annually to its pension scheme, but those contributions are said to have been postponed to conserve cash during the pandemic.23 Phillip Green’s net worth is estimated at £930m according to this years Sunday Times Rich List.

In a move similar to Sir Phillip, Chris Dawson, the founder of The Range discount stores, transferred his shares to his wife Sarah after she moved to Jersey in 2016. As a result, she did not have to pay any UK tax when receiving a £39.5m dividend in 2018.24 The Range has remained open throughout the pandemic and in doing so has been criticised for putting the health of employees at risk. The chain specialises in home, leisure and garden items, and some limited food items appeared in stores shortly before the order to close non-essential retail. The chain will benefit from the business rates holiday.

Discount chain B&M, owned by billionaire brothers Simon and Bobby Arora, temporarily furloughed some of its staff, briefly closing 49 of its 660 stores.25 The Daily Mail revealed that the company paid £152.6m in dividends between 2014 and 2017 to a holding company in Luxembourg, despite having no shops in the country or employing any workers there.26

Fashion and homeware retailer Matalan, owned by John Hargreaves, has furloughed over 11,000 of its staff, while deferring tax and national insurance payments, and accessing business rates exemption worth over £40m.272829

During an £84m tax dispute, Hargeaves told HMRC he had moved to Monaco and was no longer a tax resident in the UK.30 Hargreaves won this case against HMRC, with a judge ruling the case was too old for HMRC to make a claim. The Guardian reported that Hargreaves is suing his accountants for allegedly giving him ineffective tax avoidance advice regarding his move to Monaco in 2000. Hargreaves and his family have amassed a £550m million fortune, according to The Sunday Times rich list.

Football Clubs

There have been varying different responses from football clubs, with a number of clubs changing their decisions on whether or not to seek government support after news they would provoke angry reactions from the fans.

At the heart of the issue is the inequality in pay at football clubs. The furlough scheme allows companies to pay 80% of wages, up to a cap of £2,500. Companies can, of course, top-up wages to 100% if they wished. Some clubs originally sought to put their lowest paid staff on furlough, with the cut in wages, whilst continuing to pay stars in some cases hundreds of thousands of pounds a week.

Liverpool FC originally said they were intending on furloughing staff, before quickly performing a U-turn and apologising following a public backlash. Chief executive Peter Moore said: “We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week and are truly sorry for that.”31 Tottenham, the eighth richest club in the world, owned by a multi-billionaire tax exile, was also criticised for placing staff on furlough. The club quickly reversed their decision, stating that they would not use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, and have gone as far as to use their stadium as a Covid-19 testing facility.32 Tottenham has however borrowed £175m from the Treasury’s Covid Corporate Financing Facility.

Despite some clubs changing their decisions on furlough, Newcastle United and Norwich City are two clubs that pressed ahead with accessing government support, promoting calls for clubs using the scheme to be banned from buying players until the money is paid back.33

North of the border, Scottish Premiership side Celtic FC has confirmed that they will place their non-playing staff on furlough.34 The Paradise Papers revealed that Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond, owner of Celtic FC, used an offshore tax haven structure involving an Isle of Man company to avoid Swiss tax on his private jet company Execujet.35

Non-football playing staff as rival side Glasgow Rangers FC have also been furloughed.36 The club was involved in a huge tax avoidance scheme that ran players’ wages through a series of offshore trusts to avoid income tax. The resulting tax dispute with HMRC ended up bankrupting up the club.37 

Care Homes

Care homes are on the front line of the Covid-19 crisis with tens of thousands of care home residents dying from the disease. This tragedy has led to grim financial consequences for care home operators, who are paid based on occupancy.

This has led to calls from the sector to guarantee payments to homes based on minimum occupancy levels of 90%.

Before the outbreak of the virus, there had been a long running debate about the funding of the sector. One issue that had been a point of controversy is the fact that many homes are owned by Private Equity companies that had structured their business to strip out cash whilst minimising tax payments.

A 2019 Daily Mirror investigation found that over 1,000 UK care homes are owned by or run via offshore companies, with many of the largest operators making little to no profit, while paying large sums to related companies offshore.38

As we move past the immediate crisis, and into the inevitable inquiry into the disaster in the care sector, this issue is unlikely to go away.

Recently, Private Eye questioned whether the support being requested by the sector was even necessary, given the large amount of profits being booked offshore. It detailed how HC-One, the UK’s largest care home group, posted an operating profit of £57m last year, this was after making lease payments to an offshore related property company. The vast majority of the operating profit then disappeared in the form of £50m in interest costs.39 This interest of up to 18 per cent derives from loans from related Cayman Islands companies.

The group have paid out significant dividends in recent years, with £6m paid out in both 2018 and 2019 via a Cayman Islands holding company. Private Eye states that HC-One wouldn’t need financial assistance “had it not funnelled well over £50m into the Cayman Islands in three years (while paying minimal tax here, just £1m last year)”.

Second Homes

Some owners of second homes have managed to qualify for coronavirus support in what can only be described as a clear abuse of the spirit of coronavirus support.

In England, many second home owners have put the ownership of their second home into a company. If the property has been made available for rent (N.B. it doesn’t actually have to have been rented out), the company can then claim to be a business and avoid paying council tax, which has been increasing on owners of second homes. This tax dodge turned out to be even more lucrative when the government introduced grants for small business in response to Covid-19, which many second homes qualified for.40

This is despite the fact that many genuine bed and breakfasts did not qualify for the grants, because they do not pay business rates.41 The government responded to this by setting up a discretionary fund to assist businesses such as bed and breakfasts that fell outside the scope of previous schemes.

In Wales, the legislation is tougher for tax avoiders, as they actually have to rent out their second homes to qualify.

Professional Services

Professional services, accountants, lawyers and consultants being primarily office based, can make the transition to home working better than others. Although some will be seeing business in some areas slow down, other areas, such as insolvency practitioners and company administrators will be sadly seeing an increase in trade.

However, many professional services have been accessing government support schemes, opening up the sector to accusations that it has been taking advantage of government generosity.

Accountants have been particularly sensitive to the reputational risks of accepting government cash, given the way in which the industry has spent several years mired in controversy. A string of high profile corporate failures have pointed to widespread problems in the audit industry, and accountancy firms have been accused of industrial scale tax avoidance in devising and promoting tax avoidance schemes.

The six largest accounting firms held a virtual meeting in April to discuss the potential damage to their reputation should they accept government funding. During the call at least two of the Big Four accountancy firms announced that they had applied for a Covid loan from the Treasury, it was reported in the Financial Times.42 Partners at the Big Four firms earned an average of £720,000 last year. BDO, the fifth-largest accounting firm by revenues, announced it has furloughed around 700 employees. The firm’s partners earned an average of £602,000 last year.43

Law firms have been less bashful, with 90% of firms surveyed saying that they were furloughing staff. This was despite the fact that the majority of firms expect to remain profitable this year, and only see a dip in profits of less than 25%.44

To add to our bailout tracker, please click here.

1BCC Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker: First results show heavy toll on UK business communities as majority of firms face cash flow crisis, British Chambers of Commerce, 02 April 2020,

2Easyjet seeks state loans — but pays Stelios £60m, The Times, 20 March 2020,

3EasyGroup About Us, Accessed 09 June 2020,

4Virgin Group may sell up to 25 million of its Virgin Galactic shares to bolster travel business hit by COVID-19, Market Watch, 11 May 2020,

5Rolls Over, Rolls-Royce to cut at least 9,000 jobs, The Sun, 20 May 2020,

6Coronavirus: Manchester Airports Group to receive £260m, Transport Xtra, 12 May 2020,

7U.K. Ferry Operator Cuts 25% of Staff as Demand Drops After Coronavirus Lockdowns ,Wall Street Journal, 12 May 2020,

8‘Illegal’ £35m state aid for ferries faces legal challenge, The Telegraph, 27 May 2020,

10Supermarkets to benefit from £3bn bailout on business rates, The Grocer, 18 March 2020,

11Business is booming for supermarkets – they don’t need government handouts, The Guardian, 08 April 2020,

12UK’s richest man moves to Monaco to ‘save £4bn in tax’, The Guardian, 17 February 2019,

13Rural Hospitality Letter, The Pig Hotel, 01 May 2020,

14Luxury hotel chain The Pig opening country retreat in Sussex, The Argus, 17 May 2020,

15Posh health club with huge profits cashes in on coronavirus furlough scheme, Daily Record, 05 May 2020,

16That’s rich! YOU are paying wages of furloughed staff employed by wealthy tycoons including Sir Philip Green and Matalan boss as they live lives of luxury in gilded tax-haven of Monaco, The Daily Mail, 25 April 2020,

17India-born Reuben brothers in UK’s new Tax Haven Elite list, Economic Times / India Times, 07 March 2019,

18Trump’s Scottish golf resort loses money for seventh year in a row, Independent, 05 October 2019,

19Trump Organization, Written Out of U.S. Bailout, Taps Europe Aid, Bloomberg, 22 April 2020,

21Sir Philip Green: Taxing issues for the rag trade king, Independent, 21 August 2010,

22Arcadia to halt pension deficit payments, FT Adviser, 30 March 2020,

23Coronavirus: Green’s TopShop empire to halt pension payments, Sky News, 28 March 2020,

24The Range boss Chris Dawson hands business to his wife saving millions in tax, The Times, 13 April 2019,

25Wealthy Tory donors using furlough scheme to cover staff wages during crisis, The Mirror, 02 May 2020,

26B&M budget store bosses pay themselves MILLIONS through tax havens, Daily Mail investigation reveals, The Daily Mail, 27 February 2017,

30Billionaire Matalan founder wins £84m tax appeal after HMRC runs out of time, The Telegraph, 18 April 2019,

31A letter from Peter Moore to Liverpool supporters, Liverpool FC, 06 April 2020,

32Club update – COVID-19, Tottenham Hotspur, 13 April 2020,

33Newcastle United ‘owe an explanation’ on furlough, but as lockdown bites others may follow suit, Chronicle Live, 12 April 2020,

34Why Celtic scored a PR own goal by placing non-playing staff on furlough, The Herald, 02 April 2020,

35Paradise Papers: Celtic shareholder Dermot Desmond’s private jet firm used tax haven, BBC News, 06 November 2017,

36Steven Gerrard and Rangers players take wage deferrals as staff are furloughed, The Scotsman, 06 April 2020,

37HMRC drops further £5m from Rangers tax claim, BBC News, 10 December 2019,

38Care home operators ‘beg for taxpayer cash despite being run by offshore firms’, Daily Mirror, 08 July 2019,

39Care-less, Private Eye, 22 May – 04 June

40Second home ‘loophole’ fears as Yorkshire holiday lets get £30m in virus grants, The Scarborough News, 04 May 2020,

42Accountancy firms weigh up reputational risk of furloughing staff, Financial Times, 07 April 2020,

44Most law firms furloughing staff despite staying profitable, The Telegraph, May 26th 2020 –