Covid fraud fiasco widens as plans to recover £6bn are slammed as ‘soft HMRC is rewarding the unscrupulous’
In a report published late on Friday, Parliament’s cross party Public Accounts Committee says “HMRC’s unambitious plans” for recovering a total of £6bn it estimates it spent incorrectly in Covid-19 support payments – whether through fraud or mistakes – could lead to government writing off billions of pounds in taxpayers’ money.
The PAC said this “risks rewarding the unscrupulous and sending a message that HMRC is soft on fraud”.
The AAT, or Association of Accounting Technicians, first brought the issue to the Committee’s attention in its November 2021 submission to their inquiry, when it stated that HMRC estimated £5.8bn, the equivalent to 1p on income taxm, has been lost to fraud and error against a spend of over £80bn, before expressing concerns about HMRC’s approach to recovering this money.
In addition, Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said “the level of fraud and error in furlough that employers will get away with is a real concern.”
“What signal does it send when HMRC rolls over on billions of pounds of fraud and error directly related to Covid support packages? With the current parlous state of the public finances we can ill-afford to be so cavalier over so much taxpayers’ money,” Dame Meg added.
“Every taxpayers’ pound lost to a fraudster will lead to honest ordinary people feeling the post-pandemic pinch harder and harder.”Dame Meg Hillier MP
The Public Accounts Committee has recommended that where further action would be cost-effective,
HMRC should commit to recovering more of the support payments lost through error and fraud and set out how this will be done as well as committing to reassessing whether its plans are sufficiently ambitious.
“Although HMRC is set to recover around £1.5bn of taxpayer’s money lost to fraud and error, AAT was quick to question what will happen to the remaining £4.3bn,” said Phil Hall, AAT Head of Public Affairs & Public Policy.
Hall told City A.M. today that “we accept that the provision of enormous sums of taxpayer’s money, at pace, is going to attract fraudsters whether opportunist or organised, and likewise anything provided at great speed to many millions of people and businesses is liable to have a degree of error.”
“However, as we made clear last year, for the official target of recovery to be only a quarter of what has been lost to fraud and error appears to be somewhat lacking in ambition,” he explained.