Taxman spends hundreds of thousands replacing lost laptops

Tax office staff have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayer-funded technology, with hundreds of laptops, phones and computer tablets going missing due to working from home.

HM Revenue & Customs has recorded 1,491 electronic devices as being lost or stolen in the past five years. Some 1,183 were recorded as lost, while 308 devices listed as stolen. This included 881 missing phones, 570 tablets and 40 lost laptops, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed. 

Around a third of the lost devices went missing after the pandemic first struck and HMRC staff began to work from home. Tax authority workers now have the option to work from home at least two days a week written into their contracts. 

HMRC said there had been a spike in items disappearing over the past nine months due to a “bulk IT kit refresh” needed because of more workers were at home. It claimed a number of items had gone missing due to being lost by couriers while in transit, rather than by employees. 

It refused to reveal the value of the lost items but it is thought the losses represent a six-figure cost to taxpayers. 

Patrick Sullivan of the Parliament Street think tank, which obtained the figures, said the numbers “beggared belief”. 

“HMRC has been so careless with devices containing confidential information. As well as posing major security concerns, these figures demonstrate a huge waste of taxpayers’ money likely totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds,” he said. 

Edward Blake of Absolute Software, a computer firm, said it was vital the data stored on the device was deleted remotely in order to stop sensitive taxpayer information falling into the wrong hands.

HMRC confirmed it deactivated all its tech once they were reported and that each device was encrypted. Each lost or stolen device is reported as a “security incident” and triggers an investigation. In some cases this leads to the device being recovered, HMRC said.

Similar figures about lost computer devices at the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, revealed last year, sparked fears of financial data making its way to criminal gangs.

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