£4.5bn lost to fraud in three COVID schemes as Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme recorded 9.5% rate of fraud, HMRC says
The total value of fraud in three COVID-19 schemes totalled £4.5bn, of which the taxpayer is only going to get £1.1bn back, the head of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has told MPs.
Speaking at the Treasury Committee on Wednesday, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra said the £4.5bn was lost to fraud in the furlough, self employed support, and Eat Out to Help Out COVID-19 schemes.
Eat Out to Help Out, which ran for just a month in July 2020 after it was introduced by then chancellor Rishi Sunak, had a particularly high level of fraud of around 9%, higher than any other scheme and “much higher” than would normally be expected in the tax regime generally, Mr Harra said.
The scheme operated on a self-assessment basis which relied on cafes and restaurants declaring correct amounts to HMRC.
As part of efforts to clamp down on fraud, arrests were made, which in turn resulted in “quite a few voluntary disclosures” from restaurants who volunteered that they’d made a mistake in their claim and repaid, Mr Harra said.
“I’m aware of one case where a restaurant claimed to have a record month in sales during Eat Out to Help Out at the same time as they were claiming to have furloughed all of their staff,” he said.
“You’d be surprised at what people think we won’t join up.”
Last month, the windup was announced of the dedicated anti-fraud squad, the Taxpayer Protection Taskforce, set up to recoup billions fraudulently taken from COVID-19 support schemes.
The squad recovered hundreds of millions less than intended as less had been stolen than originally thought.
Mr Harris said the more than 1,250 staff allocated to the taskforce would be redeployed, and while the taskforce will come to an end, compliance work on COVID-19 error and fraud will continue.
When asked about the potential use of cryptocurrencies for tax evasion, Mr Harra said HMRC is “ahead of the game” compared to “most other tax authorities”.
“There is no doubt that they are an asset class along with several others that are used to try and hide the proceeds of evasion from us,” Mr Harra said.
“In addition to managing the risks that [crypto] poses to us, we also need to make sure that we get the tax administration right so that we also enable the crypto asset industry to develop in the same way as any other industry.”
Man dies after being crushed by pop-up telescopic urinal in London’s West End
A maintenance worker in central London has died after being crushed by a hydraulic telescopic urinal – one that’s kept underground during the day and kept out overnight.
Emergency services were called to Cambridge Circus in the West End just after 1pm on Friday to reports of a “seriously injured” man.
The incident took place outside the Palace Theatre, home to Harry Potter And The Cursed Child.
Firefighters, ambulance crews and an air ambulance were deployed at 1.05pm and police were called five minutes later.
Emergency services tried to save the man, who has not been named, but he died at the scene.
In a statement on Twitter, Metropolitan Police said: “We’re sorry to have to update that, despite the efforts of emergency services, the man who was critically injured in Cambridge Circus was pronounced dead at the scene.
“His next of kin have been informed. Cordons remain in place at the location.
“Police were called at around 1.10pm on Friday January 27, to a seriously injured man at Cambridge Circus, W1.
“The man is thought to have sustained crush injuries while working on a telescopic urinal at the location.”
A London Ambulance Service spokesman said: “We were called today at 1.05pm to reports of an incident on Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross.
“We sent a number of resources to the scene, including an ambulance crew, members of our hazardous area response team, members of our tactical response unit and a medic in a fast response car.
“We also dispatched London’s Air Ambulance.”
Roads in the area have been closed.
The telescopic or hydraulic urinal is a pop-up urinal that comes out of the ground at night and is stored underground during the day.
Wynter Andrews: Nottingham University Hospitals NHS trust fined £800,000 over baby’s death 23 minutes after birth
An NHS trust has been fined £800,000 for a “catalogue of failings and errors” that led to the death of a baby 23 minutes after she was born.
Wynter Andrews died in the arms of her parents, Sarah and Gary Andrews, on 15 September 2019 due to a lack of oxygen to the brain, shortly after an emergency Caesarean section at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.
Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) NHS Trust had admitted two counts of failing to provide safe care and treatment resulting in harm and loss at a court hearing on Wednesday.
Sentencing at the city’s magistrates’ court on Friday, district judge Grace Leong said: “The catalogue of failings and errors exposed Mrs Andrews and her baby to a significant risk of harm which was avoidable, and such errors ultimately resulted in the death of Wynter and post-traumatic stress for Mrs Andrews and Mr Andrews.
“My assessment is that the level of culpability is high, where offences on Wynter and Mrs Andrews are concerned.
“There were systems in place, but there were so many procedures and practices where guidance was not followed or adhered to or implemented.”
District judge Leong added the “systematic failures” were “more than sufficient” to cause harm to Wynter and her mother.
She said the total fine, combining the sums for offences against both Wynter and Mrs Andrews, would have been £1.2m, but this was reduced to £800,000 due to the trust’s early guilty pleas.
The judge also said she was “acutely aware” any fine would have to be paid out of public funds which would otherwise be spent on patient care.
The trust, which will pay prosecution costs of £13,668.65 and a victim surcharge of £181, has asked for two years to pay the fine.
Speaking outside the court, Mrs Andrews said she hoped the significant fine “sends a clear message to trust managers that they must hold patient safety in the highest regard”.
She added: “Sadly, we are not the only family harmed the trust’s failings.
“We feel that this sentence isn’t just for Wynter, but it’s for all the other babies that have gone before and after her.”
Mrs Andrews has previously said she was “failed in the most cruel way” by the trust and its management had been “repeatedly warned by staff about safety at the unit” but “failed to act”.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC), which inspects health services in England, said last July that it would prosecute the trust.
The maternity unit at the QMC was rated as inadequate by the CQC, with the hospital overall rated as requiring improvement, when it was inspected last March.
Mrs Andrews was admitted to hospital on 14 September 2019, her planned due date, after an “uncomplicated” pregnancy.
An induced labour planned for 7 September was cancelled on her request, but an investigation later found this was signed off by a midwife without consulting an obstetrician, and limited reasoning was given for the decision in medical notes.
Once Mrs Andrews was in labour, Wynter’s heartbeat was described as “suspicious” by doctors, who decided to deliver her via caesarean section.
After complications during the surgery, she was delivered in a “poor” condition and died 23 minutes and 30 seconds later despite “extensive efforts” to resuscitate her.
Jeremy Hunt confirms HS2 will reach central London after reports it might stop in suburbs
HS2 will end at Euston after reports the high speed line could stop before reaching central London, the chancellor has confirmed.
Jeremy Hunt said he did not see “any conceivable circumstance” the original plan would not be followed and that he was “incredibly proud” of the work going ahead.
The end-point of the line came into question after a report in the Sun, claiming the last leg of HS2 could be scrapped and replaced with a new hub at Old Oak Common in the suburbs of west London.
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This would leave passengers having to finish their journey into the centre of the capital on the new Elizabeth underground line.
The government did not deny the reports or that a two to five-year delay to the entire project – currently due to be completed between 2029 and 2033 – was being considered due to record high inflation impacting costs.
However, when asked if he and the government were committed to the line ending in Euston as planned, Mr Hunt said: “Yes we are.”
The chancellor added: “I don’t see any conceivable circumstance in which that would not end up at Euston and indeed I prioritised HS2 in the autumn statement.
“We have not got a good record in this country of delivering complex, expensive infrastructure quickly but I’m incredibly proud that for the first time in this last decade under a Conservative government we have shovels in the ground, we are building HS2 and we are going to make it happen.”
Planning your route into London
Making the the final southern destination for HS2 a station at Old Oak Common – which is yet to be built – could well have saved the government billions.
But what would the impact have been on passengers?
Let’s say Euston is your final destination.
You would get off at the new station, which will be fairly close to Hammersmith in west London, and take the Elizabeth Line to Tottenham Court Road – a journey of around 15 minutes.
From there, you could take the Northern Line two stops to Euston.
Or, if you’re feeling energetic, it would be a 20-minute walk.
The HS2 project has been dogged by criticism over its financial and environmental impact.
In October 2021, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove suggested capital investment for the line would be reviewed.
But after being installed at Number 11, Mr Hunt subsequently backed the project.
The target cost of Phase 1 between London and Birmingham was £40.3bn at 2019 prices, despite an overall budget of £55.7bn being set just four years earlier.
Penny Gaines from campaign group Stop HS2 said it is “not at all surprising” that costs were spiralling out of control.
“These reports just show that there are so many problems with HS2,” she added. “It’s being delayed further and further so the cost is going up, it should be cancelled in its entirety as soon as possible.”
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