A woman suddenly found herself more than three-quarters of a million pounds richer thanks to an unexpected bank transfer from the tax man.

And more than a year went by without HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) asking for the payment of £774,839.39 back.

The Guardian reported on the story of mum-of-one Helen Peters, whose name was changed to protect her identity, after she approached them for help

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She told the paper: “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."

After 15 months, she contacted the paper for help, having no idea what to do about the cash.

Self-employed Helen had spent nearly £20,000 of the unexpected cash, as it had arrived in the middle of the pandemic when her work was running dry, so she began 'very gently eating into the money'.

She was worried that, as she was no longer able to repay the full amount, she'd be in trouble if HMRC asked for the cash back, so the money was left sitting in her account while she could not spend it. She tried to call HMRC for advice, but said she found it "impossible" to get hold of anyone.

She even considered investing in crytocurency in a last-ditch attempt to recoup the cash she'd spent.

She was worried she could be aggressively pursured by tax officials to give the money back if she came forward. Keeping a wrongful credit could be classed as theft, if the recipient 'dishonestly' fails to take 'reasonable' steps to get the money back.

But when Guardian contacted HMRC, a spokesperson said the body “genuinely wants to be supportive” in her case.

“We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to the individual. We are working to recover the payment that was made. For the amount that the individual spent, we will work with them to come to a payment arrangement that takes into account their financial circumstances,” he said.

A debt management adviser will now work with her to repay the money at a pace that's managable for her.

But it seems that if Helen had never come forward, she might not have had to repay the cash at all.

When HMRC investigated the cash, it discovered the payment had been made in error, when staff were trying to send a £23.39 parcel customs duty rebate. The paper claims that, because the money hadn't been destined for anyone else, the mistake might never have been discovered.

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