A “deplorable” tax office call centre worker who defrauded £52,348 from members of the public who had rung up to clear their debts has been jailed.
Nicola Barnes admitted eight counts of fraud and fraud by abuse of position and was sentenced to two years and four months in prison on Wednesday, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said.
The 36-year-old, of Parkfield Road, Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, had admitted the offences at Birmingham Crown Court on March 7 last year.
Barnes, who was sacked in March 2018, was a debt management adviser who should have been taking calls from taxpayers getting in touch to clear their liabilities, and handling their payments.
Instead she was diverting the payments into a string of non-HMRC bank accounts.
Barnes had only joined the tax office in October 2017, but in that short time she made eight attempts to steal a total of £143,264 – and was successful on six occasions.
Her crimes were discovered when taxpayers, thinking they had cleared their debts, complained to HMRC after they continued to receive reminders of outstanding payments.
As well as being jailed, Barnes was ordered to pay £1,800 costs.
HMRC said Barnes’s victims did not suffer any financial loss as a result of her offending.
Ben Rollins, HMRC’s anti-corruption chief, said: “As an HMRC employee at the time, Nicola Barnes’ actions were utterly deplorable.
“She held a position of trust and responsibility.
“She stole from people who were simply taking steps to clear the debts they owed.”
He added that HMRC took “the strongest possible action against the tiny minority” who fell short of the service’s high standards of integrity.
“Fraud is never a victimless crime, and by stealing from taxpayers Barnes was also stealing from public services used by us all,” added Mr Rollins.
“We encourage anyone with information about tax fraud to report it online.”