COVID-19: Opportunities for fraudsters in govt-backed business support ‘unacceptable’, MPs say

The number of mistakes and opportunities for fraudsters in government-backed COVID support was “unacceptable”, the head of an influential group of MPs has said.

Meg Hillier, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), said the government should be held accountable to those who pay off the massive bill for keeping the economy running during the pandemic.

She said a “lack of preparedness and planning, combined with weaknesses in existing systems across government, have led to an unacceptable level of mistakes, waste, loss and openings for fraudsters”.

She said this would ‘end up robbing current and future taxpayers of billions of pounds”.

Read more: Govt ‘going after each and every person’ suspected of COVID support scheme fraud

“It is essential that for as long as we will be paying the costs of COVID-19, which is at least the next 20 years just in some of the loan repayment terms, the Treasury and all of government continue to account specifically for what it has spent in response to the pandemic,” she added.

“Government must be held accountable in this way to all the future taxpayers who will be paying for this response.”

According to a National Audit Office report from September, the full cost for the lifetime of the government’s COVID-19 measures will reach around £370bn.

The PAC said the Treasury should state what it has learned from the response and what it is doing to collect lessons across Government departments.

The Government threw billions of pounds at COVID support schemes in the early days of the pandemic, as the Chancellor vowed to do whatever it takes to get through the crisis.

This included the bounce back loan scheme, which rapidly paid out money to small businesses that were struggling.

Along with other loan schemes, the Government now estimates it will never get back around £21bn of the money that banks lent out.

It will now have to step in to cover these losses.

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