Update, 30 July 2014: HMRC is extending the deadline to apply for tax credits to 11.59pm on Wednesday 6 August, regardless of how you renew. This is due to strike action by HMRC staff who are members of the Public and Commercial Services Union taking place today, Thursday and Friday, which may cause delays for people renewing over the phone. The story below reflects the new deadline.

If you receive tax credits, you've only have a few days left to renew them, so do it now or your payments could stop.

The tax credit deadline is 11.59pm on Wednesday 6 August. So if you're one of the 5.8 million people who have been sent a form, and you haven't done anything about it yet, don't ignore it. If you do that, your payments could stop, or you could be forced to repay cash you've already spent (see our Tax Credits guide for more info). 

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payouts made regularly by the state into your bank account to support those with children or those 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 none, one or both: Child Tax Credit – which anyone with children, whether working or not, could be eligible for, and Working Tax Credit – which anyone who works, whether they've got kids or not, could be eligible for.

The amount you can get depends on your income, whether or not you're single or part of a couple, the number of children you have, the number of hours per week you work and whether or not you have a disability.

How do I renew my tax credits?  

What you need to do depends on what you were sent by the tax credit office. 

Did you get your form in a WHITE envelope? 

If you did, you need to check this declaration form is correct. You need your NI number, 15-digit number at the bottom of your declaration form and income and benefits details.

  • It's correct. If you've no changes, you either need to renew online at Gov.uk, 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 form back.

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.

  • It's incorrect. If your circumstances have changed, call 0345 300 3900, or report it online at Gov.uk.

Be aware that the official hotline for help closes at 8pm on the final day and is likely to be busy as we're nearing the deadline. HMRC says mid-afternoons tend to be quieter, so this is the best time to call. If you don't get through at first, keep trying. 

If you still can't get through, make a note of when you called and what you wanted to tell them. Remember some can also make their renewal by post as long as their form is received by 6 August, or they can renew online.

If I'm not going to claim again, do I need to bother with the forms?

Yes. It's important to check the forms, even if you're not entitled to tax credits any more or if you don't want to claim any more. This is because the renewal pack isn't just estimating your credits for the next year, it's checking whether you were correctly paid for last year.

So failing to sort it out could leave you suffering overpayment or underpayment problems.

Beware emails from HMRC

Phishing is a type of spam email where scammers try to reel you in, hoping you've got a connection to the company they're pretending to be from. The emails disguise attempts to steal your passwords, bank codes and money.

But while HMRC may email you about other issues, it never emails about tax credits or tax rebates. So if you get an email about them, don't believe it and never click on a link and enter your password – no matter how genuine it looks.

If anything changes, at any time, tell HMRC

If your circumstances change, even if it's not at renewal time (or if you've already done your renewal and it's happened since), tell HMRC.

If you don't, you risk being overpaid. While that 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. Charity Citizens Advice recently said the number of issues reported to it of people falling into debt as a result of repaying overpaid tax credits increased by 14% in the 2013/14 tax year.

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 and what you told them, and when, in case of a dispute later on.