Both 2017 and 2018 are years I do not look back on with great affection. To start, I moved to Canada in January 2017 to escape a high-pressured career as an editor which almost gave me a mental breakdown and zero social life. My home life was frosty at best, and a new start where anonymity and the possibility of a happier life were central to the escape plan was what I needed.

My new life, however, came to an abrupt end after a questionable Tinder match left me broke and heartbroken. My Nan had to send me some money so I could get back to England – meanwhile I was holed up in a hostel near Toronto’s Church and Wellesley village, surviving on food from the local Dollarama, at the mercy of tourists giving me cigarettes in exchange for suffering my sob story, and watching every cent so I could catch the two subways and bus to Pearson International Airport. There was no welcome when I landed at Gatwick, just a two-and-a-half hour train journey to an empty house, next to nothing in the bank and the realisation that I’d have to start all over again.

My confidence was at an all time low. Depression hindered many chances of getting back into journalism. I would arrive to an interview and successfully move onto the final stage of a writing test, only to either not bother writing an article or send something unfinished due to a lack of self-esteem. I survived by doing some freelance gigs for recruitment agencies, writing blogs and producing social media posts to help pay the rent, until a recruitment consultant reached out in late July 2017 about a role at Which?

I was hesitant about working in a contact centre; I envisaged angry customers, call after call and strict working conditions. All did become reality, but, during one of the saddest times of my life, my colleagues made me feel welcome and part of a team. In a matter of months, I had made some firm friends and, although I was still suffering with crippling anxiety and depression, my luck was beginning to change.

I rang in the New Year with my friend Emma, a good friend from school who was going through a difficult time herself: “This year is our year, I can feel it.” I was determined to make sure 2018 would not become another disappointment; I needed to prove to my family and everyone around me that I could bounce back, re-establish my thick skin and demonstrate the determination I once had to make myself a self-made success.

I attempted to date again throughout the last half of 2017 and beginning of 2018, but the apps only offered slim pickings and what I now consider most to be the dregs of society. I was met with people who turned out to already be ‘involved’, came with excess baggage, after just one thing or compulsive liars. On top of this, I pushed myself to keep putting on a brave face through depressive episodes, and a looming announcement was made in March of this year that the contact centre would be moving to Cardiff. If I did not relocate with the company, I would be made redundant by December.

I was adamant that I would not be moving to Cardiff. My life was just starting to come together back home. I made some new friends at work and reformed friendships that were previously broken during the height of my depressive state. I quickly had to come to terms with moving on and not let this setback destroy my road to recovery.

Prior to the announcement, I had regained some confidence to create a website showcasing my published work as well as writing blog posts on previous travels. I would use this as an application tool when applying for reporter jobs, only to be quickly turned down due to making the transition from journalism to a call centre. No matter how many doors I knocked on or the interviews I managed to get, the industry switch was frowned upon by managing editors and publishers who didn’t want to understand my situation (not to mention that I needed to make a stable living instead of surviving on the small amounts of money I would get from the odd freelance job). As it was made evident to me from the get-go: I’ve made my bed, and now I need to lie in it. One time, two editors from a high-profile business-to-business magazine publisher sniggered in my face after I explained the career gap in my CV and how I ended up working for Which? On a separate occasion, a Baroness’s partner ended an interview after just 10 minutes, exited the meeting room and left me to pick up my things and find my way out in front of a leering office of what appeared to be privileged university graduates.

I still persevered despite the vast amount of rejection. I found my strength from regaining self-motivation, reminding myself of the pressure that comes with working freelance and removing any distractions that would have potentially interfered with me once again finding my feet in journalism. Although the attempt could be seen as admirable, it was clear that my efforts were wasted. Time was running out, and I needed to make a decision on what my next step would be.

Consultations at work resulted in the company agreeing that those who chose to relocate, even on a trial basis, would receive a generous incentive. I was offered the opportunity to take the offer for a minimum of six months and, if I didn’t like it, I would be able to return home. No other job offers materialised, living at home was trying at the best of times and my romantic life was non-existent. I considered this proposal a lifeline, another chance to start afresh with people I already knew. By September, I had left for Cardiff feeling both nervous and optimistic about what was in store. I made it my mission to see this as a new start; I wanted to join social groups to make new friends, be a visible reference at work to lend support to my new colleagues and, now looking back rather foolishly, find ‘the one.’

I’m now in Cardiff and, after three months of trying to make new friends and carve a brand new life, there has already been a number of personal and professional obstacles and this time of year has allowed reflection on how I ended up here. I’ve made some amazing friends at work, but the dating scene is worse than back home and many I have met – even without any intention of a romantic relationship – are reluctant to be my friend. Going into 2019, I will uphold my optimism that has got me through some very challenging times. A potential career change and a another move could be on the horizon, but the main lesson I would like to take with me into the New Year is to find some true happiness, even if that means starting all over again.

Famed for its iconic landmarks from Alcatraz Island to the Golden Gate Bridge, its long-established LGBT and Asian American communities and the city’s cable cars dominating the steep, rolling hills, I was excited to explore the diverse and cosmopolitan vibes of San Francisco. I wasn’t, however, prepared for the staggering homeless population that became my plus one along the way of my solo trip.

(more…)

An elaborate VAT scam constructed by three members of the Copp family (Geoffrey, 55, his brother Andrew, 51, and son Joshua, 24) allowed them to live a life of pure excess, opulence and greed.

Whilst enjoying the many gambling trips to Vegas casinos and posing on private jets with cash-loaded briefcases, foreign manual workers were employed by the trio under the umbrella company Central Payroll Specialists (CPS)—later rebranded as Quality Premier Services (QPS)—to survive on minimum wage.

It was used by a number of recruitment agencies to oversee the salaries of thousands of temporary workers across industries such as construction, and, after information was passed on to Essex Police, it was found to have not passed VAT obtained from the recruitment agencies to HM Revenue & Customs; leading to a full-on joint investigation by the HMRC Criminal Taxes Unit and the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate.

A picture of a notepad found on Joshua’s phone detailing the VAT breakdown and how it was shared between the three parties was a considerable help to the detectives, and the notepad itself was later found at the QPS office near Rickmansworth.

In the aftermath of the case—which found up to £46 million in unpaid VAT and the scammers sentenced to a total of 27 and-a-half years—the global contractor compliance consultancy, 6CATS International, is urging recruitment agencies to make sure the suppliers they work with are fully compliant before building relationships. “This is an extreme case, yes, but it’s far from being an unusual one and over the past few years we’ve seen an increasing crackdown on firms that operate outside of the law and put the recruitment agencies they work for, and the contractors those agencies place, at serious risk”, says Michelle Reilly, 6CATS’ CEO.

“However, there are still many organisations out there under the misguided belief that they can somehow slip under the radar and, while few will be quite as extravagant as this one has been, it’s highly likely that they will be caught out. This will not only leave your firm scrabbling around to find a new supplier, but can also leave your contractors and even your agency at risk of a major punishment such as an unlimited fine or potentially a prison sentence.”

Reilly continues to suggest it will be even harder for those suppliers operating unethically in the wake of this case; considered to be the largest UK payroll fraud of its kind. “The potential gains for breaking the law are clearly high, but the risks are so much greater and with HMRC becoming ever more effective at tracking down tax evaders, those suppliers that are still operating non-compliantly will eventually be caught.”

“The government knows it can bring in revenue from chasing down those committing evasion and with the introduction of legislation like the Common Reporting Standard and the Criminal Finance Bill, it’s only going to become harder to get away with operating outside of the law. It’s now time for recruitment agencies to take the bull by the horns and take responsibility for ensuring their suppliers are operating compliantly before it’s too late.”

Writing this post has brought back memories of similar past incidences: the senior NHS agency manager jailed for two-and-a-half-years for defrauding the system out of £130,000, and both directors of One Stop Recruitment who failed to pay more than £245,000 of employees’ tax and NICs, to be exact. And, unfortunately, fraud and fraud risks associated with recruitment are commonplace and often overlooked by businesses.

There’s a need to recognise fraud-related risks to prevent both a damaged reputation and financial losses. Although the actions covered in this piece were carried out for personal financial gain, a failure to comply with the prevention, identification and detection of fraudulent activities will ultimately lead to criminal prosecution.