Rishi Sunak has moved to assure people he is not “ignoring” or “writing off” billions of pounds stolen from the government’s Covid support schemes.
The chancellor today said that “criminals sought to exploit our support schemes”, but that “we’re doing everything we can to get that money back”.
Treasury minister lord Theodore Agnew resigned spectacularly this week over the government’s “schoolboy” handling of widespread Covid fraud.
He also said the Treasury appears “to have no knowledge or interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or society”.
It is estimated that £5.8bn was stolen from three Covid support programmes – the furlough scheme, the self-employed income support scheme and Eat out to Help Out – with HM Revenue and Customs saying it hopes the government can claw back up to £1.3bn of this.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) also believes around £5bn could be lost as a result of fraudsters preying on the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, according to the Financial Times.
Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the sums of money lost are “a damning indictment of the chancellor and the government’s failures on fraud”.
Sunak said: “A lot of people are concerned about fraud in our Covid support measures and they’re absolutely right to be. No, I’m not ignoring it, and I’m definitely not ‘writing it off’.
“Clearly criminals have sought to exploit our support schemes. We’re going to do everything we can to get that money back and go after those who took advantage of the pandemic.”
The Treasury last year launched a £100m Taxpayer Protection Taskforce, which will work to claw back some of the billions stolen by fraudsters.
The taskforce has a staff of 1,200 people.