Caught out by rebate firm Tax Credits Ltd pocketing half your cash? Here's all you need to know
Hundreds of people say they've been duped into using a third party claims firm called Tax Credits Ltd to request tax rebates, which then pocketed almost half their cash. Such sites are not scams, but many people say they weren't aware they'd signed legal documents giving the firm permission to look into both past and future claims. Here's what to do if you've been caught out.
MoneySavingExpert.com (MSE) has spoken to 11 users - and seen hundreds of complaints online - that allege a variety of problems, including that Tax Credits Ltd's adverts on social media sites deliberately mimic those of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), that the firm submits claims using forged signatures, that it progresses claims without consent, and that it makes it difficult for people to get hold of their money.
Users are also angry that the firm takes 48% of any rebate due.
We've got everything you need to know on what to look out for below and what to do if you've been caught out but REMEMBER you can claim a tax rebate by yourself without the help of a third-party. You can also see our Copycat websites guide for more info on similar sites to avoid.
Commenting on Tax Credits Ltd and our investigation, Angela MacDonald - HMRC’s deputy chief executive and second permanent secretary - said: "We’d like to thank MoneySavingExpert for highlighting its readers’ experiences with Tax Credits Limited, and its guidance to readers to help ensure they get the money they’re entitled to when they make tax refund claims."
Many of the people affected told MSE they believed their signature had been forged
Tax rebate firms help submit tax repayment claims - for a fee - and will ask you to grant them permission to do so by signing a document or electronic form that gives them authority to reclaim tax for you.
But some of those we've spoken say their signature was used without permission or wasn't theirs at all.
In one case, HMRC was forced to apologise to one customer after the tax office said it wrongly "accepted a fraudulent" claim from Tax Credits Ltd. The apology came after the customer told HMRC that Tax Credits Ltd had submitted a claim using a signature that was not theirs.
HMRC revoked Tax Credits authority and gave the user a full refund. It also told the individual it would investigate the complaint and take action where needed.
Tax Credits Ltd said it "strenuously denies" allegations of wrongdoing.
If you think your signature has been forged, you should first complain to HMRC but it's not guaranteed HMRC will accept your complaint. We've detailed below what to do if HMRC does not uphold your complaint.
Here are some examples of people we have spoken to about the problems they say they've encountered with Tax Credits Ltd:
'At no point did I sign a contract'
Catherine Wren, 44, from Bristol, told us: "I remember clicking on an advert on Facebook and I assumed it was associated with HMRC as it used the same branding and colours.
"I filled out an initial enquiry form to see if I would be due anything and didn't think anything else of it until I got a letter from HMRC. At no point did I sign any contract [see the image below for Catherine's driving licence signature versus the signature Tax Credits Ltd says she provided]. I called HMRC and was told I'd given this company authority to claim my rebate."
Catherine said HMRC initially told her it couldn't help as she'd signed documents allowing Tax Credits Ltd to claim on her behalf - something she denies. HMRC has now told us it is looking into the complaint.
'Emma did not consent to this'
Sukesh Verma, 41, told us his wife Emma Verma put her details onto Tax Credits Ltd's site and provided an e-signature, believing she was filling in an enquiry form to find out if she was eligible for a working-from-home tax rebate, unaware she was signing a legally binding document.
HMRC then got in touch to tell Emma she was due almost £3,000 and that Tax Credits Ltd would take 48%.
Sukesh said: "What I can't believe is that HMRC has sent years' worth of incredibly sensitive personal information across to this company. Emma did not consent to this, and the signature on the legal document we were sent (pictured below) looks nothing like Emma's."
HMRC said it is looking into Emma's complaint.
Other complaints about Tax Credits Ltd
Here's a summary of some of the other complaints we've heard about Tax Credits Ltd:
- Its adverts used similar text, font and colours to mimic HMRC (see the picture below) and claimants therefore believed they were dealing directly with the Government's official service.
- It's not made clear that by filling in the enquiry form Tax Credits will then progress your claim. Those we've spoken to say they filled in and digitally signed an online enquiry form (some also signed paper documents) giving Tax Credits Ltd the right to look into their complaint but that they didn't realise this meant the firm would progress their claims, recouping any other tax overpayments due that year and in some cases, such as marriage allowance rebates, going back four years.
- That payment terms are not clear and prominent. Many say they didn't realise Tax Credits Ltd would take almost half of any rebate due - although this is detailed in the firm's terms and conditions. Pictured right is an example of how the website looks when you fill out the enquiry form. The terms and conditions are below where you sign, and rely on you clicking through to read them.
- Once awarded a payment, you have to provide ID to claim it. Some say this feels deliberately obstructive, while others are reluctant to do this this given they believe the firm progressed claims without their consent. Tax Credits Ltd told us it asks for ID to comply with anti-money laundering obligations. However, solicitor and former HMRC lawyer, Osita Mba, told MSE that tax rebate firms should ask for ID before accepting a claim in order to comply with anti-money laundering laws. HMRC does not need ID to process payments.
Tax Credits Ltd also isn't clear on what is does with your data
- No option to opt out of data sharing for marketing purposes, limited transparency on who it shares your data with for other purposes and no "cookie banner" on its website. This means you have no say over how Tax Credits collects your data when you're on the site, what it does with your data, how long it's stored for, and which (if any) third parties it may be shared with.
We've put these issues to Tax Credits Ltd. We also raised these concerns with the ICO, which told us it hadn't received complaints about the firm prior to MSE getting in touch but will now be contacting Tax Credits Ltd to discuss the concerns raised.
What to do if you've unwittingly signed up to use a tax rebate firm
If you believe you've unknowingly signed up to use a tax rebate company, or you believe a firm has forged your signature, you can try the following complaints avenues - though it can be difficult to get all of your money back without incurring the claims fee unless you can prove you were misled.
- First, complain to the company involved. See if it will revoke any legal agreement in place - you can only cancel if both you and the claims firm agree to it. This will then need to be sent to HMRC in writing.
- If you don't get a response from the company, or it refuses to cancel an agreement, you can make a formal complaint to HMRC. Mr Mba said you could argue that HMRC acted negligently by not conducting appropriate checks and providing refunds to Tax Credits Ltd when claims were progressed under "false representation". It's important to note that these firms are currently unregulated, so your only route to complain is via HMRC initially.
Mr Mba said: "In my opinion [in the situation that it was not clear what people were signing, that misleading advertising was used and that there was a failure to ask for ID beforehand], this would mean Tax Credits Ltd has no legal basis to keep customers' money, their personal data or to act as their agent.” HMRC told us it will investigate complaints on a case-by-case basis. You should expect a response within four weeks.
- If you aren't happy with HMRC's decision, you can take your complaint to the tax office adjudicator. It can look into your case and help find a solution, or make formal recommendations.
- If you still aren't happy you can take your complaint, via your local MP, to the Parliamentary Ombudsman - but only once the adjudicator has reviewed your case. If the Parliamentary Ombudsman upholds your complaint, it can ask firms to apologise, make things right, and issue redress.
- If all else fails, you can consider complaining via the small claims court. While relatively easy to do, you need to pay fees upfront, which you get back if you win. But, even if you do, if Tax Credits Ltd refuses to pay, you could incur more costs to enforce the judgment. For full help, see our Small Claims Court guide.
- You can also complain to the Insolvency Service - regardless of whether the firm is solvent or not - though this won't help your individual complaint. The Insolvency Service can investigate companies where the firm's activities do not fall within another regulator's remit. What merits an investigation typically includes corporate abuse, such as serious misconduct, fraud and scams.
If you need assistance with your complaint, you may be able to seek legal advice or help from charity Citizens Advice Bureau's consumer helpline.
How to claim a tax rebate on your own
Watch out for copycat websites - these need to make clear they aren't affiliated with the Government and will say this somewhere on their site. Also, check the URL, if it doesn't end in "gov.uk", it's not a Government body.
Plus, watch out for small print, such as: "I unconditionally assign my repayment of tax (for tax years ending 2018/19, 2019/20, 2020/21 and 2021/22) to…. [tax refund company]," warns charity Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG). This statement gives firms permission to take payment from previous tax years too.
For further help, see the LITRG's guidance on how you can claim a tax rebate. You can also check our tax code calculator to see if you may be due any tax back.
What does HMRC say?
HMRC recently launched a consultation looking at ways to better protect taxpayers claiming tax refunds, as a "range of individuals and consumer interest groups have raised concerns that taxpayers are being charged excessive amounts, under terms which aren't clear".
Launched on 22 June, the consultation runs for 12 weeks and looks at introducing a number of new rules to help protect taxpayers including:
- Restricting the use of legal contracts that transfer the right to a repayment from a taxpayer to a claims firm.
- Introducing measures designed to ensure taxpayers see material information about a claims firm's service before entering into a contract.
- Requiring claims firms to register with HMRC.
A spokesperson for HMRC added: "Customers should be careful when responding to online adverts. They should check who they are dealing with before they hand over personal information, and carefully read the repayment agent’s terms and conditions to understand what they’re signing up for and the fees they’ll pay.
"Where a customer has used a repayment agent and has an assignment [a legal agreement] in place, we take steps to ensure its validity and will investigate when we suspect a customer's signature is not genuine."
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