The first batch of millions of tax credit renewal packs have been sent out by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), but furious recipients say they're already facing long waits when calling the helpline.

If you've children or you're on a low income, you may be eligible to receive tax credits, which could be worth £1,000s a year. HMRC says it has sent nearly 400,000 tax credit packs to claimants so far this year, but a total of six million will be sent out between April and June.

However, a number of people have taken to social media to vent their frustration over the long waiting times when calling the tax credit helpline. Here are some of the tweets we've seen:

  • @katmclarke: "@HMRCcustomers Why are people being kept waiting over an hour to speak to someone on the tax credit helpline?"
  • @Miss_EmmaW: "On phone for 50mins waiting on tax credit helpline. People with the lowest income in receipt of tax credits charged a small fortune to contact HMRC."
  • @aim_ross1311: "Day two of trying to talk to tax credits – 35mins on hold..."

HMRC says it always sees a spike in calls once renewal packs are sent out and adds that it will be adding more call handlers to deal with inquiries.

Below is a Q&A summary of what tax credits are, for more information on how to claim, renew or appeal, see our Tax Credits guide.

'It's time this problem was permanently fixed'

Martin Lewis, MoneySavingExpert.com founder and editor, says: "The fact people are complaining about huge difficulties getting in touch with the tax-credit hotline when we're still a few months away from the real peak period is incredibly worrying.

"Many people who get tax credits are part of the hard-working Britain we hear touted so much by politicians, and the loss of productivity when people are having to hang on the phone for hours at a time just to get through is a travesty.

"We need to get this sorted. The people who call up are the ones doing the right thing to make sure the payment they get is fair. By making it bureaucratically difficult to do it's encouraging people to milk the system, and for the system itself to go wrong. We've had this year after year, and it's time it was permanently fixed."

So when's the best time to call the helpline?

The phone lines are open 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am to 4pm on Saturdays. HMRC says the phone lines are less busy between the following times:

  • 8.30am to 10.30am Tuesday to Thursday.
  • 2pm to 4pm Tuesday to Thursday.

HMRC adds that people can renew, make changes and request a new claim pack online at Gov.uk via tablet, mobile or desktop. You can also tweet @HMRCcustomers if you have general questions.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are means-tested payouts made regularly by the state into your bank account to support you if you have children, or if you are in work with a low income. They're paid via the tax office, and anyone aged over 16 who normally lives in the UK can apply to get them.

There are two types of tax credits. You can be eligible for one, neither or both:

  • Child Tax Credit – anyone with children, whether working or not, could be eligible.

  • Working Tax Credit – anyone who works, whether they've got kids or not, could be eligible.

The amount you can get depends on your income, whether you're single or part of a couple, the number of children you have, the number of hours per week you work and whether you have a disability.

How do I apply for tax credits?

If you've not received tax credits before and believe you're eligible, you can order a claim form online at Gov.uk or you can call the Tax Credit helpline on 0345 300 3900. It can take up to two weeks for a claim form to arrive.

I already get tax credits. How do I renew them?

What you need to do depends on what you were sent/will be sent by the tax credit office between April and June this year. The renewal deadline is usually 31 July unless your renewal pack gives you a different date.

Did you get your form in a WHITE envelope?

If you did, you need to check whether the details on your review form are correct but make any changes on the declaration form.

  • It's correct. If you've no changes, you either need to renew online at Gov.uk, via the HMRC phone app (free download from Google Play or iTunes), by calling 0345 300 3900, or by posting the signed form.

  • It's incorrect. If you've got changes, either call 0345 300 3900, report it online at Gov.uk, or post the signed and amended declaration form back. You'll need your NI number, 15-digit number at the bottom of your declaration form and income and benefits details.

Did you get your form in a BROWN envelope?

Here, you need to check the info in this review notice is correct.

  • It's correct. If you've no changes, do nothing. Your credits will be automatically renewed.

  • It's incorrect. If your circumstances have changed, call 0345 300 3900, or report it online at Gov.uk. You'll need your NI number, tax credit renewal pack, details of any changes to your circumstances and total income (including your partner's) for the last year, to hand.
Martin Lewis
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If anything changes, at any time, tell HMRC

If your circumstances change, even if it's not at renewal time, tell HMRC.

If you don't, you risk being fined or overpaid. While being overpaid sounds a dream, it's a nightmare, as you'll be asked to find the cash to pay it back, even if you've already spent it.

These changes can be anything: moving in/out with a partner, a change in working hours, a change in income, the number of kids you have or childcare costs. The golden rule is: if you're not sure, tell them. Also, for safety, always note down who you spoke to, what you told them and when, in case of a dispute later on.

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