A woman who woke up to find more than three-quarters of a million pounds had been deposited in her bank account by HMRC has described how she spent a year waiting for it to realise its mistake and reclaim the money and worrying about what would happen when it did.
In August 2020, Helen Peters*, a self-employed mother of a five-year-old, looked at her bank statement and found that instead of being mildly overdrawn, a £774,839.39 Bacs payment from the Revenue had sent her account very much into the black.
Peters said the experience was “amazing, incredible, bizarre” but that it quickly became “a nightmare.”
“It was like something out of a Hollywood film, and 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,” she said.
Helen Peters’s bank statement, with the payment from HMRC underlined in red.
Fast-forward 15 months and Peters contacted the Guardian to ask what she should do, as she wanted to return the money.
There was one problem. She had spent close to £20,000 of it, and could not afford to pay it back immediately. The money had arrived in the middle of the pandemic, just as her training work had all but dried up, forcing her, she said, to dip into her newly inflated bank balance.
“I assumed that HMRC staff would notice their mistake when I paid my tax in November 2020, but nothing happened,” said Peters, from her modest south coast home. “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 as my child would need to be fed, or something.
“On other calls I would be cut off before I could talk to someone. I moved £100,000 into my savings account but it has earned virtually no interest. I have never been wealthy and don’t have a car or even a dog. My income had been decimated and all the time I was very gently eating into the money. But because I could no longer pay the whole sum back I was stuck in a catch-22 position. I had a whole load of money I knew I couldn’t spend, but I was unable to do anything about it in case …….