If you've had your tax credit payments wrongly stopped by the troubled contractor Concentrix, it's possible to appeal and get backdated payments. Here's what to try, plus stories from those who've had credits stopped, including a single mum whose appeal is still ongoing despite her calling 67 times in one day.
Last week HMRC said it had decided not to extend its contract with Concentrix beyond May 2017 after claims hundreds have had their tax credits unfairly stopped. MoneySavingExpert.com later revealed HMRC staff are taking on a backlog of around 2,000 appeals.
HMRC says those who've had their tax credits stopped will have their cases prioritised and processed as quickly as possible.
We were originally told by HMRC that if your tax credits were wrongly stopped you'll have them repaid in one go. However it's since clarified that while that's true if your credits were stopped, it's not the case if only part of your claim was removed.
How to appeal
HMRC has taken over all new tax credit checks, and appeals which have already been launched against Concentrix decisions.
However Concentrix is continuing to handle some 200,000 cases which are already open (ie, where Concentrix has notified a person that their tax credit entitlement is being investigated and that they have the standard 30 days to respond). So it's possible Concentrix could still stop your tax credits if it's been investigating you - though it won't be opening any new cases.
If that happens to you and you don't agree with the decision, you should:
- Ask HMRC to reconsider Concentrix's decision. This is technically called a 'mandatory reconsideration' - they used to be done by Concentrix itself, but now you go to HMRC. Fill in a form and send it with supporting documents to the Tax Credits Office - you've 30 days from being notified of changes unless there are exceptional circumstances (eg, being in hospital).
- Still unhappy? Appeal further. You can go to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal in England, Scotland or Wales. You must fill in and return a form, along with a copy of your mandatory reconsideration notice, usually within a month of receiving it. The case will be considered by a tribunal judge, and you may request a hearing if you want to attend in person. The process is likely to take a few months.
In Northern Ireland you must appeal to the Appeals Service Northern Ireland - but the exact procedure you must follow depends on the date you received your mandatory reconsideration notice, because the rules recently changed. As with British appeals, you'll be expected to submit your notice and will then have access to an independent tribunal.
What to do if you've already started an appeal
HMRC's taken over the investigation of all mandatory reconsiderations, including those which have already been launched, and has drafted in an extra 150 staff to help go through a backlog of 2,000 such appeals. We've heard that mandatory reconsiderations are typically dealt with within two to three weeks at the most - HMRC says most cases should be dealt with more quickly than that.
You can ask HMRC's Tax Credits Office for updates on your case by phoning it on 0345 300 3900 or using its webchat service.
As above, if you disagree with HMRC's decision, you can appeal to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal (in England, Scotland and Wales) or the Appeals Service Northern Ireland.
What to try if all else fails
If you're not getting anywhere through the formal channels, you could try getting your local MP involved. You can find out who your MP is and how to contact them via the WriteToThem website.
A number of MPs including Louise Haigh, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Frank Field have championed the cause of those affected by Concentrix's decisions in the House of Commons, and have urged those affected to get in touch with their MP. It will need to be your local MP who takes you case up though, as each MP has to represent their constituents.
'I called 67 times in one day and it's still ongoing'
MoneySavingExpert.com has received dozens of emails from distraught people whose payments were stopped. One 28-year-old single mum from Worcestershire who got in touch - she asked not to be named, so we've called her Hannah - was typical of many of the cases we've seen.
She told us she'd resorted to calling Concentrix 67 times in one day after it stopped her tax credits and she was left with no money to feed her two young children. Having received child tax credits for years, Hannah got a letter from Concentrix in August accusing her of living with another adult - which can affect tax credit eligibility - and demanding evidence of her living arrangements.
On phoning Concentrix she was first told they weren't answering any queries that day because they'd been overwhelmed with calls. When she called back, she was astounded to learn Concentrix believed a man called "Christoph Pearson" lived with her - a claim she totally denies. "The only Cristoph I've ever heard of is a character in the Disney film Frozen," she said.
Hannah has mild learning difficulties and finds paperwork a struggle. She used to have a support worker to help her with this type of procedure, but that service was axed due to funding cuts.
Despite these hurdles, she managed to get all the requested documents in by Concentrix's deadline, but her money was stopped anyway. She's since been told Concentrix has received her documents but has yet to scan and upload them to their system, leaving her in limbo.
'We're living on £44 a week'
We also heard from Olivia (whose name we've also changed), a 22-year-old single mum from Liverpool whose payments were suspended without warning when her son was only two weeks old.
Like Hannah, Olivia was accused of living with an "undeclared partner", but unlike her, Olivia says she didn't receive a letter - the money simply stopped one day, and she only found out the reason by phoning Concentrix.
That was seven weeks ago and now she, her newborn and her toddler are scraping by on around £44 a week. She's recently been diagnosed with postnatal depression and has been put on a high dose of medication.
Olivia says she's tried calling Concentrix hundreds of times and has been put on hold for up to 50 minutes. She told us she hoped Concentrix "gets shut down".
And it's not only single parents affected. Part-time teacher Emma Henderson and her partner have been without tax credits, which they use to pay for childcare, for six weeks and counting. Emma told us she'd sent multiple letters to HMRC, spoken to Concentrix and asked her local MP to intervene in the case, but the issue still hasn't been resolved.
'7 weeks and counting'
Dozens have also tweeted us in response to our reports on the Concentrix backlog:
7 weeks and counting and no signs off it being sorted anytime soon 😑— Sophie Heptinstall (@SophieHep91) September 17, 2016
Good! They accused me of living with someone when my ex moved out in 2008!! Only other person here is my daughter!— Nicki (@RecoveringNicki) September 13, 2016
what happens to those of us still missing back payments & facing bank charges because of @Concentrix idiocy— Emma Henderson (@kaoshoneybun) September 13, 2016
I've been chasing since May with still no outcome. Can't update my change #Concentrix constantly engaged— Mum (@bubblegumwall18) September 14, 2016
I haven't had a tax credit payment in three weeks because of concentrix! I have 3 young kids and we're all suffering!— Kimberley Robertson (@kimberleyrob94) September 13, 2016
What does Concentrix say?
We asked Concentrix to comment on all the individual cases in this story - it declined to do so, but a spokesperson said: “Concentrix operates professionally at all times and within the guidance and protocols set by HMRC.
"Whilst we are disappointed not to have our contract renewed, we are committed to working positively and within HMRC’s guidelines to build on the near £300 million savings we have secured for the UK taxpayer.”