politics

Treasury gives up on chasing £4.3bn of public cash stolen by Covid fraudsters


Labour branded the revelations ‘outrageous’ as it emerged £1 in every £4 taken by scammers would likely never be recovered

Chancellor Rishi Sunak's department accepted that billions of pounds Covid cash would never be recovered from fraudsters
Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s department accepted that billions of pounds Covid cash would never be recovered from fraudsters

More than £4 billion of public cash taken by fraudsters from Covid support schemes has been written off by the Treasury.

HMRC figures released last week show £5.8 billion was stolen from pandemic relief schemes such as furlough and self employment support by people claiming cash they weren’t entitled to.

A taskforce set up to claw back cash recovered £500 million last year, and is expecting to recover an additional £1 billion from scammers.

This means the Treasury only expects to recover £4.3 billion – or £1 of every £4 taken – by fraudsters.

The figures, first unearthed by the Times, were quietly published last week.

Labour branded the figure “outrageous” and said the Government should have been able to help support workers without losing billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash.







Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said the figures were ‘shameful’
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Image:

AFP via Getty Images)

Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves told the Mirror: “These confessions are outrageous.

“While prices soar, billions in hard-earned taxpayer cash has been frittered away by fraud – and the Chancellor is happy to shrug his shoulders and lose it forever.

“It shouldn’t be beyond the wit of government to get money where it needs to go, without allowing fraudsters to steal taxpayer funds.

“Leaving the till open and unattended for thieves to clear out would be a sackable offence for a shopworker, yet apparently it is acceptable for a Chancellor.”

And Shadow Business Minister Bill Esterson tweeted: “You can bet this Government wouldn’t be so casual if it was benefit claims.”

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We introduced these unprecedented Covid support schemes at speed to protect jobs and livelihoods.

“The result of the action is our economy is back to pre-pandemic levels, we are the first major European economy to report that.”

He added: “Obviously fraud is unacceptable and we’re taking against those who abuse the system – 150,000 ineligible claims blocked, £500 million recovered last year, HMRC taskforce is expected to recover an additional £1 billion of taxpayers’ money.”

HMRC boss Jim Harra admitted last year that all the money would likely never be returned.

“We will not be able to recover it all,” he told the Financial Times. “You will reach a point of diminishing returns in terms of good use of resources.

“These are time-limited schemes. We do need to put them to bed at some stage and move on from them. And 2022/23 is the year for which our plans go up [to].

“Whether there’s anything that goes on beyond that will depend, I think, on what we find and the rate of return that we’re getting.”

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