Hunt down the Covid support scheme fraudsters, HMRC told

Hunt down the Covid fraudsters, HMRC told after £5.8bn of taxpayers cash is lost through pandemic support schemes

Britain’s tax collector has been urged to spend more on finding fraudsters.

HM Revenue and Customs is set to spend just £155million over the next two years on clawing back the estimated £5.8billion lost through the Covid support schemes it administered.

The Department for Work and Pensions, in contrast, has been handed £510million to tackle the Covid-related rise in benefits fraud, estimated at £3.4billion.

HM Revenue & Customs is set to spend just £155m over the next two years on clawing back the estimated £5.8bn lost to fraudsters through the Covid support schemes it administered

The vast disparity was blasted by research charity Taxwatch. Executive director George Turner said: ‘I can see no possible justification why the Treasury is putting vastly more resources into tackling benefits fraud, when the amount of money lost to tax fraud is significantly higher.

‘Billions of pounds was stolen from the Treasury during the pandemic – given that these fraudsters were taking advantage whilst so many people were suffering, this was a particularly heinous crime.

‘HMRC now needs to be given the resources to go after these people.’ The department administered the furlough, Self-Employed Income Support and Eat Out to Help Out schemes which cost £99billion.

It estimates £5.8billion was lost through fraud and erroneous payments. But Jim Harra, boss of HMRC, has said the taxman will struggle to recoup even half of that. HMRC was granted £100million by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in March for a ‘Taxpayer Protection Taskforce’ to hunt down the money.

In the Autumn Budget, Sunak said that would be increased by £55million next year.

The DWP, however, has been handed £510million over the next three years to tackle the £3.4billion rise in Covid-related benefits fraud – on top of the £103million it secured for fraud and error at the Spending Review.

Yet it is understood that HMRC officials are not pushing for more money because they do not believe increased funding would necessarily result in more success.

Sources claimed that a large chunk of suspected Covid tax fraud only involved very small sums, which would not be cost-effective to chase up.

A HMRC spokesman said: ‘Our taskforce has already opened more than 26,000 civil inquiries and a number of criminal investigations, as well as making thirteen arrests for suspected fraud. More work will follow.’