UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced the formation of a taskforce to tackle fraud involving the government support schemes that were devised in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Taxpayer Protection Taskforce will see more than 1,250 HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) staff attempting to identify those who have tried to make fraudulent gains from the government schemes. A total of £100M is being spent on the Taskforce.
The creation of the Taskforce comes as no surprise, given the widespread awareness that the furlough scheme, the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) and the Bounce Back and Coronavirus Business Interruption loan schemes have all been targeted by those out to commit fraud.
There have already been an estimated 10,000 enquiries into fraudulent activity relating to the schemes. By investing £100M into tackling this, the government is indicating that it is aware of both the scale of the problem and the need to hold those responsible to account.
But questions remain about whether the government should have had more robust preventative measures in place before billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money was paid out to support companies and individuals. As with the mistakes that were made with the procuring of personal protective equipment, it remains to be seen if lessons will be learnt regarding the support strategy adopted by the government.
It should also be noted that as the Taskforce is a response to the widely-reported problem of pandemic-related fraud, it will not be looking at other major forms of fraud. Figures from Action Fraud have shown that last year saw £78M stolen from people through pensions and investment fraud, with those responsible often posing as legitimate companies.