A series of arrests have been made over the last week involving suspected fraud connected to Covid-19 government schemes supporting UK businesses.

On Tuesday, HMRC officers arrested three men in the London area on suspicion of “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme fraud.

The men, aged 43, 48 and 37, are suspected of cheating the public revenue and fraud by false representation in the first arrests in connection with the scheme, which aimed to boost the UK hospitality sector in August. All three men have been questioned and released under investigation.

Kath Doyle, Deputy Director, Fraud Investigation Service, HMRC, said: 

“The vast majority of businesses will have used Eat Out to Help Out responsibly, but we will not hesitate to act where we suspect abuse of the scheme.  

“This is taxpayers’ money and any claim that proves to be fraudulent limits our ability to support people and deprives public services of essential funding.”

Separately, officers from the officers from the National Investigation Service (NATIS) and the National Crime Agency (NCA) last week arrested three individuals in the Birmingham area suspected of fraudulently obtaining Covid-19 government-based bounce back loans totalling £145,000.

This was the first operation targeting the abuse of the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, now confirmed to run until next January, which allows small and medium-sized businesses to borrow up to £50,000 with no fees or interest to pay for the first 12 months.

The three people were questioned and released under investigation.

Rachel Herbert, Head of Threat at the National Economic Crime Centre (NECC) at the NCA, said:

“These arrests are part of targeted efforts against bounce back loan fraud. The NECC is providing intelligence to assist multiple partner investigations, and the NCA and others will pursue those serious and organised criminals who seek to exploit the help provided to businesses during a national crisis.”

The arrests come as the British Business Bank published a letter from Chief Executive Catherine Lewis La Torre, ahead of her appearance before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday, reporting that lenders had prevented Bounce Back Loan Scheme fraud totalling £1.1 billion on 26,933 loans up to 20 October.