First arrests over alleged fraud in Eat Out to Help Out and loans schemes


The first arrests have been made over alleged fraud in two UK Government support schemes designed to help businesses hit by Covid-19.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said three men have been arrested on suspicion of fraud linked to Chancellor Rishi Sunak's Eat Out to Help Out discount scheme.

HMRC officers arrested the men – aged 43, 48 and 37 – on Tuesday at their London addresses on suspicion of cheating the public revenue and fraud by false representation.

Three people have also been arrested over alleged fraud linked to coronavirus bounceback loans.

This trio were held in the Birmingham area on October 30 accused of fraudulently obtaining £145,000 in Government-backed loans.

All three suspects were questioned and have since been released under investigation, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.

They mark the first such arrests amid a crackdown on scams relating to Government support schemes and come amid fears of widespread fraud.

Kath Doyle, deputy director of HMRC's fraud investigation service, 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."

More than 100 million cut-price meals were eaten across the UK under the scheme, which offered a 50% discount of up to £10 off meals in August to boost the hospitality sector.

The arrests come after a recent report suggested one of the biggest alleged frauds into the Eat Out to Help Out scheme was at the Papa John's pizza chain.

A Daily Mail investigation last month claimed outlets run by Raheel Choudhary took part in the scheme when they were collection and delivery-only during the height of the pandemic.

Mr Choudhary said at the time he was "co-operating fully" with an internal investigation by Papa John's.

HMRC declined to confirm or deny whether the arrests relate to the franchise.

The bounceback loan scheme arrests are thought to mark the first of many after the National Audit Office (NAO) warned last month taxpayers could lose as much as £26 billion from fraud, organised crime or default.

The loans scheme is designed to support small and medium-sized businesses affected by the pandemic.

They are able to borrow up to £50,000 and do not have to pay any fees or interest for the first year.

Rachael Herbert from the NCA said: "The NCA and others will pursue those serious and organised criminals who seek to exploit the help provided to businesses during a national crisis."