A woman woke up to find a mystery £775,000 deposited into her bank account by HM Revenue & Customs described the situation as a nightmare.
The woman, who has not been named, spent a year waiting for the organisation to realise their mistake and take the money back – all the while fearing what would happen if she spent any of it.
The self-employed mum-of-five noticed the money in her account when she checked her statements in August of last year she found she went from overdrawn to a balance of £774,839.39.
She said the experience was “amazing, incredible, bizarre” but that it quickly became “a nightmare.”
The mum said: “After I had got over the shock I just assumed that someone would realise that they had made a huge mistake and that they would swiftly take the money back. But no one did, and the money just sat in my account”.
15 months later the woman reached out to the Guardian to ask how she can return the remaining money – as she had spent close to £20,000.
The money had landed in her account in the middle of the pandemic, which meant she struggled to work and had to dip into the money.
“I assumed that HMRC staff would notice their mistake when I paid my tax in November 2020, but nothing happened,” she added.
“I even tried to ring HMRC but getting hold of anyone at the time was impossible. I’d wait 30 minutes on the phone and then would have to give up. On other calls, I would be cut off before I could talk to someone.
“My income had been decimated and all the time I was very gently eating into the money. I could no longer pay the whole sum back […] I had a whole load of money I knew I couldn’t spend, but I was unable to do anything about it in case HMRC wanted it all back at once.”
After the Guardian contacted HMRC it investigated and discovered that a member of its staff had made the mistake while trying to pay her a £23.39 parcel customs duty rebate.
The mum’s biggest fear was being aggressively pursued by HMRC. Section 24A of the Theft Act 1968 makes it an offence to knowingly keep a wrongful credit – where the recipient dishonestly failed to “take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to secure that the credit is cancelled”.
An HMRC spokesperson has told her that the organisation “genuinely wants to be supportive” in her case.
They added: “We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to the individual. We are working to recover the payment that was made. For the amount that the individual spent, we will work with them to come to a payment arrangement that takes into account their financial circumstances”.
HMRC has said a debt management adviser will now contact her, establish exactly how much she can afford to repay each month and agree on the terms. She has offered to pay back the balance over five years.
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