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UK Recoups Just Fraction of £1.1 Billion of Covid Fraud Losses

(Bloomberg) -- The UK government has recovered just 2% of £1.1 billion ($1.4 billion) lost to fraudsters taking advantage of its coronavirus business support program, an initiative announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer.

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By May 2023, more than three years on from the start of pandemic restrictions, only £20.9 million had been recouped from the money estimated to have been lost, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said on Wednesday in a report. It cited the government as saying that checking payments is expensive and that there are legal obstacles to recovering some funds.

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“It is simply not good enough to give up on recovering this money simply because it is difficult to do so,” opposition Labour Party MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said in a statement. “Public trust is harmed if the government shrugs its shoulders at criminals lining their pockets with state support.”

Read More: Fraud Against UK Taxpayers Rose Fourfold In Covid, Watchdog Says

Sunak himself has acknowledged that some of the assistance programs rolled out during the pandemic were done so at speed and at the expense of more rigorous checks on recipients in order to ensure struggling businesses were kept afloat. That made the programs vulnerable to abuse.

Last year, while still chancellor, Sunak said the government would do “everything we can” to recover the money.

Neither the Treasury nor the Department for Business and Trade — which oversaw the program — responded to a request for comment.

The PAC said ministers should develop a contingency plan for how it would respond in a similar future national emergency.

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