Jefferson T, Dietrich M, Brassey J, Heneghan C. COVID-19 Fraud losses in the UK: (version 1, 2022, March 31). Retrieved from osf.io/czk97 DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/CZK97 Abstract Background: The COVID-19 pandemic led to the provision of substantial funds intended to sustain various parts of UK society during the first part of the pandemic. Methods: The report is in three parts. The first summarises the publicly funded schemes available; the second part provides an overview of the main bodies overseeing public finance. The third details estimates of theft of public funds until early 2022. All information comes from open sources, but we have concentrated on the largest of the sources, programmes, and losses accrued through criminal activities. Whenever possible, we have focused on fraud, which assumes criminal intent, rather than waste through errors and negligence. All sums are estimated and expressed in Pounds Sterling and rounded to the nearest decimals. Results: Since March 2020, public bodies have launched at least 374 financial interventions aimed at relieving society of the burdens of restrictions and facilitating recovery, costing £370 billion (more than double the £180 billion announced initially). The National Audit Office (NAO) reported £261 billion had been spent; the total amount of loans was £133.3 billion as of September 2021. At present, at least 25 different public bodies are involved in monitoring fraud, ensuring financial probity, holding perpetrators accountable, and recovering monies. The likely overall losses to fraud are between 8.5% and 38.8 % of the total invested, depending on the type of intervention and the inability to separate fraud from waste. Examples are the Eat Out to Help Out scheme which cost 849 million and accrued fraud losses of £72 million (8.5%) (equivalent to one “ghost” meal in every twelve claimed), and the Bounce Back Loan scheme (BBLS), which has loaned £47 billion and has lifetime costs of £18.4 billion that will not be repaid. The HMRC Taxpayer Protection Task Force is forecast to recover only around £1 billion by 31 March 2023. There was an unexplained increase in the incorporation and dissolution of companies in the UK in 2020-2021. In 2020, over 60,000 more companies were incorporated than expected, and dissolutions were 146,045 fewer than expected. As a result, there were 388,847 more companies on the ‘effective register’ by the end of 2021 compared to the beginning of 2020. Conclusion: The UK government was unprepared to prevent or minimise the effects of theft from the funds it made available to protect its people from the financial impacts of the pandemic.
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