Test and Trace money wasn’t just spent on an app

21 February 2022
What was claimed

NHS Test and Trace spent £37 billion on an app.

Our verdict

NHS Test and Trace was allocated £37 billion for the first two years of operation, but expects to spend about £28 billion. The tracing app accounted for less than 1% of this spend, most of which went on testing.

A video posted on Facebook by an account with almost 180,000 followers claims that NHS Test and Trace was set up with a budget of £22 billion, and was then allocated an additional £15 billion, spending a total of £37 billion. Then it is claimed this money was “spent [...] on an app which mostly didn’t work”. 

It’s true that these were the allocated budgets for NHS Test and Trace for its first and second years of operation, but not all of this was spent. 

The National Audit Office says that in the first year £13.5 billion was spent out of a budget of £22.2 billion. 

In the second year NHS Test and Trace expects to spend £17.9 billion, but make savings of £2.9 billion for a net budget of £14.2 billion though we won’t know the actual spend before the end of the 2021/22 financial year. 

So, together, the estimated spend for the first two years of operation will be around £28 billion, not £37 billion.

The NHS Test and Trace app also accounted for a very small amount of the money spent by the Test and Trace programme—around £35 million in the first year.

The vast majority of spending went on testing itself, accounting for £10.4 billion or close to 80% of the total spend in 2020/21. The next largest expenditures were on local Covid-19 outbreak management and support (£1.8 billion) and national contact tracing (£910 million).

It is also claimed in the video that at least £10 billion of this spend was overspending. Although ultimately this is a matter of opinion, it’s not clear on what basis this figure is made.

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Other losses

The video’s creator also claims the government has written off £8.7 billion “in masks and protective equipment that is unusable or expired or they paid more than it's worth” and that HMRC has “effectively written off £4 billion in fraudulent loans” issued during the pandemic.

The Department of Health and Social Care has said that there has been an estimated loss in value of £8.7 billion from the £12.1 billion it spent on PPE in 2020/21. 

Of this, £0.67 billion was spent on defective PPE, £2.6 billion was spent on PPE not fit-for-use within the health and social care sector, £0.75 billion was spent on PPE surplus to requirements, and £4.7 billion was the difference between the current market price of the PPE bought and the price it was actually bought for.

As for the money lost to fraud, HMRC expects to only be able to recover up to £1.5 billion of an estimated £5.8 billion lost to fraud and error through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough payments), Self-Employment Income Support Scheme and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. This would leave around £4.3 billion which is not likely to be recovered.

Additionally, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) estimates losses of £4.9 billion from Bounce Back loans, around £1 billion from Covid-19 business support grants and an unknown amount from other business loans due to fraud or error. It has not estimated how much of this loss is unrecoverable.

Correction 24 February 2022

This article previously said that £76 million was spent on the contact tracing app in 2020/21 as stated by the NAO's report. This was the budget for the app, while the spend was £35 million.

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