Iceland launches furious attack on HMRC over harassment


The founder of Iceland has launched a furious attack on HM Revenue and Customs for “harassing” his business over a scheme intended to allow staff to save money for Christmas.

Sir Malcolm Walker opened the first Iceland frozen food shop 50 years ago in Oswestry, Shropshire. It now has 976 supermarkets in the UK and 29,500 employees including 4,400 hired since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

HMRC handed it a £21 million bill at the start of the year for breaching minimum wage rules. It said that even though staff voluntarily set aside money from their wages, their pay had technically fallen below the legal requirement. In the past month, HMRC has asked for payslips and further details.

Sir Malcolm, 74, responded in a letter saying: “I don’t know what planet you and your colleagues are living on, but in case you haven’t noticed here on Earth we are in the midst of an unprecedented global crisis.

“I think you and your teams would be far better employed helping furlough payments come through instead of spending your time harassing companies that are hard at work feeding the nation on an absolutely ridiculous technicality. I think you should be ashamed of yourself in continuing to pursue this matter.”

He added that the business had 3,000 employees off sick on full pay, a further 1,200 vulnerable staff taking 12 weeks leave on sick pay and it was facing £20 million of additional costs from dealing with the coronavirus.

The Iceland founder said that sales had halved at 200 of its stores. However, total sales are thought to have increased by double-digits as shoppers stocked up on frozen foods and new customers sought online deliveries.

An HMRC spokesman said: “We don’t discuss identifiable businesses. We understand that businesses are facing unprecedented challenges. Many of our minimum wage teams are working to deliver the vital support schemes the government has put in place. HMRC’s priority is to support employers and workers during this time.”