The EOTHO scheme saw more than 84,000 food and drink establishments take part and offer a 50% discount on eligible purchases on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during August 2020.

HMRC worked quickly to set up a system to pay restaurants within five working days. Controls were built into the system to protect public money, which included limiting eligibility to food businesses registered with the relevant local authority by 7 July 2020.

Its post-payment compliance checks to recover money paid out incorrectly are now set to begin. As such, HMRC is writing to around 4,000 businesses where its records suggest that they may have made an incorrect claim, asking them to check their claims are correct.

Claimants have 60 days to respond to the letter, after which HMRC may start a formal compliance check. This could include having to pay statutory interest and penalties.

Some claimants may be asked to provide evidence of eligibility and their EOTHO calculations. This follows the similar approach HMRC has taken to post-payment compliance for the Job Retention Scheme and the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS).

The letter says: ‘We are supporting our customers while tackling serious fraud and criminal attacks. We understand mistakes happen, particularly in these challenging times. This means we will not look for innocent errors and small mistakes for compliance action.’