A new £100m taskforce to crack-down on COVID fraudsters who have exploited government support schemes is expected to be announced by the Chancellor at next week’s Budget.
The Taxpayer Protection Taskforce will be staffed by more than 1,250 HMRC operatives responsible for investigating and combatting those who have sought to fraudulently claim taxpayer’s money through schemes such as furlough and the Self Employment Income Support Scheme.
Rishi Sunak will announce the UK-wide taskforce as part of a package of measures to tackle fraud and abuse that will also include raising awareness of enforcement action in order to deter criminal activity.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak said:
“Our coronavirus support schemes have helped millions of honest, hard-working people – but a small minority have seen this pandemic as an opportunity to defraud the taxpayer.
“This will not be tolerated – which is why the new taskforce will crack down on this criminal activity.”
HMRC already have a rigorous system in place to counteract fraud, working through payment data, PAYE records, other information, and reports from the public to identify potential wrongdoing.
Although the majority of people are using the schemes correctly, a minority are deliberately abusing the schemes to make fraudulent claims, HMRC have already opened about 10,000 inquiries into suspected fraudulent activity and have in some instances begun criminal investigations.
Alongside the taskforce, the Chancellor is expected to announce measures to further tackle fraud in the Bounce Back Loan Scheme. This will build on guidance we have already issued to lenders which has resulted in the prevention of over 42,000 fraudulent or ineligible applications and include action to prevent and deter rogue company directors from abusing the scheme.
During the crisis, fraudulent activity has included businesses furloughing for more people than they employ and claiming furlough for employees who have continued to work. Other examples include making substantial Eat Out to Help Out claims despite furloughing all their staff.
Arrests secured by HMRC so far include the arrest of a West Midlands man on suspicion of £495,000 furlough fraud.