The number of companies claiming furlough dropped between January and February but more than 840,000 still depend on state support to pay staff.

Revised figures published by HM Revenue and Customs showed that nearly 12,000 fewer companies claimed in February under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme than did so in January.

The overall number of firms drawing on the scheme had previously jumped, by more than 100,000 between December and January, as business activity was restricted by national lockdowns imposed across the United Kingdom.

But after reaching a peak of 852,082 in January, the total claimant count fell back to 840,387 in February.

The decrease is likely to have accelerated significantly since then, with the Office for National Statistics saying last week that the proportion of business’s workforce still on furlough fell from 17% to 13% in April.

HMRC also removed more than 400 companies from the data, indicating that some took the decision to pay back furlough support.

Guardian Media Group said in April that it would voluntarily return £1.6m in furlough money to the government that was claimed during the early days of the pandemic to support the salaries of some staff.

Dixons Carphone also does not appear in the new data, after saying last month it would repay the £73m it has received.

A raft of supermarkets and housebuilders, as well as companies such as Serco and Ikea, have previously handed back furlough money.

Several major employers, including the fashion brands New Look and JD Sports, and the David Lloyds gyms and leisure business reduced their use of the scheme between January and February.

The Guardian has previously revealed that foreign royals, billionaires, tax exiles and some of the UK’s largest landowning aristocrats were making use of the scheme rather than using their own funds to pay staff at small businesses they owned.

None of the companies named by the Guardian have been removed from the list, indicating that they continue to claim furlough support.

The bookmaker Ladbrokes said in April it was still considering whether to pay back furlough support, after a bumper year for online gambling during which its rival William Hill returned its own taxpayer support.

Ladbrokes remains one of the larger claimants, drawing on support worth up to £55m between December and February.

According to the latest data, the largest claimants reflect the impact on the hospitality and travel sectors, with the two pub chains JD Wetherspoon and Mitchells & Butlers the only two firms claiming within the highest bracket of £25m to £50m.

The next group down, between £10m and £25m, includes British Airways, easyJet, the retailer Primark, and the Greene King and Stonegate pub chains.



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