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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 24/04/2009 :  06:59:42  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Our current campaign is to Tell Timms (Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury) about tax credit injustices, ideally face to face in a meeting TCC is seeking with Timms and Dave Hartnett from HMRC.

For those who don't yet know, or who haven't read the "Latest News" section at You must be logged in to see this link. , Timms made a statement in the House that he was prepared to see to it that cases where claimants had spotted errors on their award notices and advised HMRC of them did not result in the claimant being held responsible when HMRC did not make the necessary changes.

Previously, Timms has written to me acknowledging the issue of Annulled Awards, and how not returning a "renewal" pack (for whatever reason) automatically leads to a previous entitlement becoming an overpayment. He is also aware of the issue of people claiming in the "wrong capacity" (sole not joint, or joint instead of sole), and how HMRC fails to take into account a person or couple's rightful entitlement during that period, making the whole payment stand as a recoverable overpayment.

Because Timms knows of these problems and has suggested he is "considering" them, we are now gathering details of claimants stuck with overpayments because of one of these issues:

Annulled Awards from non-return/non-receipt of a renewal pack
Claimants receiving overpayments because a partner moved in or they split up (or both)
Claimants telling HMRC of errors yet footing the bill when HMRC failed to correct these.

Since Hartnett has also given an open invitation to consider any HMRC injustices (on the "Tonight" programme, 6th April 2009), there is also scope to present the man cases not covered under the Timms categories above. We'll be looking for good examples of HMRC messing up, and under this broad heading, "anything goes".

No firm meeting has been booked yet, and with this government only paying lip service to "consultation" with the public, it may never happen - but we are asking politicians to deliver on promises, and if they are too anxious to meet with us, it raises the question of their fitness to govern and represent us.

With other Welfare groups now supporting our user initiatives, we're optimistic of finally getting a meaningful meeting with a government Minister, which we have been seeking since 2005.

If you would like your case to be presented to Timms and Hartnett, please get in touch.

Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 25/04/2009 :  07:26:22  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
I'm putting together a list of issues for Timms and Hartnett, and potentially for our LITRG and CAB allies when we meet with them shortly. Here's what members have flagged up so far:

1. Claimants whose first language is not English being penalized for reporting changes of circumstances only in advance, rather than again after the event.

2. HMRC insisting on recovery of pseudo-overpayments that are cost-free or of minimal cost to the public purse, arising from bureaucratically-annulled awards or claiming in the wrong (sole/joint) capacity where there would still be underlying entitlement.

3. HMRC failing to act when claimants advise of errors, generating overpayments which HMRC view as recoverable despite Stephen Timms stating otherwise.

To be continued....

Please keep your suggestions coming!


Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 09/06/2009 :  07:40:43  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Just to update you - there has been no reply from either Timms or Hartnett about meeting with us, even though both men have spoken of wanting to put injustices right.

Interesting that Timms' predecessor Jane Kennedy has tendered her resignation to the PM. Does she have an uneasy conscience about the tax credit issue and the party line on recovering officially-created overpayments? Perhaps seeing colleagues defend their "economy with the truth" over mortgage claims and second home "flipping" was the last straw, when she was entrusted with clawing tax credit overpayments back from the innocent indebted struggling to make ends meet.

Thank you, Jane, for this step towards acknowledging your government's failings to its people. I hope you will think hard about your former Treasury role and speak up about that, too. Bullying takes many forms. We here have seen much of that.

Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 04/07/2009 :  10:35:07  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
I have a reply of sorts, dated 15th June.

"Thank you for your letter of 16 April on behalf of the Tax Credit Casualties to our Permanent Secretary for Tax, Dave Hartnett, and copied to the Financial Sectretary to HM Treasure. I am sorry for the delay in replying.

We are currently looking into the issues you raise and will let you have a full reply as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely

JM" (someone's PA).

It is from the Ministerial Correspondence Unit, Nottingham.



Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 27/07/2009 :  07:20:27  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Over three months after I wrote to Dave if-you-have-been-unfairly-treated-by-HMRC-then-let-me-know Hartnett HMRC's Permanent Secretary for Tax, I have just received a three page "reply" of sorts. And no, he doesn't want to meet with us and learn about how we have been unfairly treated by HMRC. What a surprise!

I knew what to expect right from the moment I saw that he hadn't even got my last name right. But what's the small matter of a little accuracy between HMRC and "friends"?

I don't have a textbridge scanner, so I can't show you the full letter, but just some "highlights" from it.

What I can do is attach my original letter here, although I haven't recreated any font changes, etc. as when I cut and paste I tend to lose all that - including any changes of paragraph, so if it looks odd, my apologies.

After that, I'll give you an idea of Hartnett's "response".

Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 27/07/2009 :  07:21:58  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
My original letter to Hartnett:


Dave Hartnett
Chairman
HMRC
100 Parliament Street
London
SW1A 2BQ

16th April 2009


Dear Mr Hartnett,

On the Tonight programme on Monday 6th April you stated that anyone who felt they had been unfairly treated by HMRC was welcome to let you know. On behalf of the Tax Credit Casualties (You must be logged in to see this link.), a user group representing victims of non-fault tax credit overpayment recovery and similar injustices, we have thousands and thousands of examples for you. Ideally we would present some of these to you in person, and if we could do so in the presence of Stephen Timms, Alistair Darling or Gordon Brown, so much the better.

The unfair treatment we wish to highlight falls into various categories, and the following list is neither exhaustive nor prioritized. Although happy to send examples to you, it would be far more meaningful and productive to have a proper meeting with you and assurances of prompt and appropriate action, as anything less is an affront to those whose lives have been blighted by a system going wrong. Letters too easily go unanswered and after four years of campaigning for a safer, fairer tax credit system, we are heartily tired of being “fobbed off”.

Here are a few examples of “unfair treatment” by HMRC:

1. HMRC acting as “Judge and Jury” in its own cause. Virtually all disputes are initially rejected, and even at the Adjudicator and Ombudsman stages, rulings are made by HMRC-appointed officials under HMRC’s own taxation-based rules. HMRC provides reports to the Adjudicator that can contain errors and the claimants do not usually get to see or comment on these. Pro bono lawyers have advised us that through not allowing access to an independent tribunal and other omissions HMRC is breaching claimants’ Human Rights!

2. Claimants routinely being told “you cannot appeal” against recovery of the alleged overpayments without being advised that they can dispute, challenge and complain. Victims are amazed to find us (or other charity/welfare agencies) and discover for the first time that they have rights that HMRC has never pointed out to them.

3. HMRC operating a dual track process – lightning speed for recovery and snails pace for amendments and answers. Claimants are kept waiting months (certainly not the “four weeks” promised by Stephen Timms) for inadequate responses to their letters whilst simultaneously threatened with court action from the recovery arm of HMRC. It has recently been alleged that HMRC destroys correspondence unopened, and due to the large number of claimants we have spoken to who never received even an acknowledgement to their letters never mind having information acted on, we find this worringly believable. Often the first sign for a claimant that anything is wrong is a court summons.

4. HMRC taking premature court action and deliberately disallowing claimants – who have expected a fair trial and “to have their day in court” – from having their cases re-examined by the judge. One victim went to court five times and received a County Court Judgement before TCC helped her secure a full write-off, and what passes at HMRC for an apology.

5. The rhetoric of Labour Ministers not matching the reality of HMRC practice. Thus Dawn Primarolo states, “most claimants are honest” whilst HMRC places the onus on claimants to prove honesty and compliance rather than on HMRC to prove fraud or negligence. Dawn Primarolo has insisted that “a court summons is always the last resort”, when we see case after case of this being used prematurely and to close down ongoing disputes. Jane Kennedy has promised that when claimants are "on long-term benefit or are seriously ill, HMRC will remit the debt”, but the TCC has yet to see evidence of a single case where this discretion has been used. Similarly, HMRC can exercise discretion when claimants’ mental health is at risk, but never, in our experience, do. Finally, Stephen Timms has promised that all cases where claimants’ overpayments arose because HMRC failed to correct errors pointed out to them by claimants will be written off after examination by him. Why, then, do we see, time and again, claimants who have diligently pointed out errors only to receive huge tax credit bills?


5. Tokenistic “consultations” which deliberately exclude tax credit victims. Rather than “nothing about us without us” we are seeing “everything about us without us”, with the door firmly locked, bolted and padlocked behind the deliberators. TCC are happy to meet with HMRC and Ministers but want assurances of commitment to action, sadly lacking in the past. It is in no-one’s interests to deny and prop up a clearly failing regime, and to continue to do so inspires contempt rather than respect and confidence, whether in the system or in its overseeing government.

6. “Compliance” investigations being opened against honest claimants without their knowledge, and claimants whose awards have been “hijacked” by fraudsters (including HMRC employees) being subjected to recovery actions, or even (according to a recent contact) being prosecuted without first having recourse to a proper examination of where funds actually went so that their name could be cleared. We are aware from an ex HMRC worker that “insiders” have perpetrated fraud against innocent claimants which, if undetected, can lead to recovery from the claimant victim. What reassurances can you offer that claimants are protected from unwarranted investigations and premature recovery, and assumed guilty until proven innocent?

7. Data protection issues. This is indeed a “double whammy” as HMRC has ultimate power over our data, who sees it, and when – and consequently a huge hold over us. On the one hand, HMRC seems reckless in protecting our data, and we witness case after case where correspondence is sent to the wrong address (one victim only learned of her court summons from a neighbour who had received and opened all her tax credit post because it had been wrongly addressed) or lost in transit. Subject Access Requests arrive late, falling out of their packages, showing signs of being opened, and all too often sent to the wrong person. Meanwhile, claimants who were formerly living with a partner are denied access to paperwork signed by their ex, even if it relates to a claim made jointly when they were a couple, and the enquirer needs access to this to prove they were not at fault. Time after time TCC members report that the sole missing item from their data packs was the call or letter which proves their own account of events, and this occurs far too frequently to be coincidence. Huge delays often occur before claimants receive their data and commonly there are huge gaps in the data provided.

8. Discriminatory practices. HMRC has never recognised claimants as lay people without an expert understanding of taxation law and complex tax credit calculations, and makes no effort to advise people in advance of their rights and responsibilities. When claimants who do not have disabilities and whose first language is English complain of being treated like criminals, having their questions left unanswered, and feeling unrepresented in their disputes with a terrifyingly powerful, unaccountable, overly-bureaucratic, out of touch organization, what hope do claimants who are not fluent in English, have learning difficulties, or are from discriminated-against groups have of being treated as individuals? Same sex couples have been served overpayment demands simply for declaring their cohabitation on time, and assumptions are made that partners are of the opposite gender. HMRC has its own definition of what constitutes a couple which does not neatly match either the reality of people’s lives or common understanding of what a couple actually is. HMRC’s ruthless pursuit of either or both ex-partners has led to abused women receiving recovery demands, adding insult to injury. There is also the “Maternity Leave Trap” issue which assumes a mother will not make a prompt return to work, creating an automatic (recoverable) overpayment if she does. We continually see people with disabilities or serious illnesses who can no longer work being unfairly denied write-offs, despite rhetoric to the contrary from Jane Kennedy.

9. HMRC going back on its word. It is bad enough that awards accepted and spent in good faith by claimants should be clawed back years after the event despite promises of “Money with your name on it”, but we have examples of claimants being told there is nothing to repay and that overpayments have been written off only for letters to turn up months later asking again for repayment of the same overpayments, or an HMRC official to arrive on their doorsteps demanding this money. This is clearly not acceptable and were any other debt collecting agency to behave in this manner, they would be severely sanctioned,


Mr Hartnett, we want to accept your invitation and to tell you more about some of the thousands of people who have come to our tiny, barely publicized self-help group for peer support, representation and advice, sharing with us their own harrowing accounts of how they have been “unfairly treated by HMRC”. Please arrange a meeting, attended by senior government Ministers, at which we may do this. For too long people have suffered from a system which was introduced to help, rather than harm them. We need to meet urgently. Please let’s have this discussion and share our experiences and evidence with you – for otherwise nothing will change, and any pride you may have in that part of the system which does work will only be hollow. We want to be your enlighteners, and not forever your adversaries.

Yours sincerely,


A M-W

On behalf of the Tax Credit Casualties.

cc. Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury
George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor


Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 27/07/2009 :  08:01:21  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Right, here's how Hartnett answered. I will put my original question in one print style, and Hartnett's and my comments in others:

HMRC [is] acting as “Judge and Jury” in its own cause. "Tax credits provides for a right of appeal against a decision on entitlement and therefore an opportunity to challenge the amount of any overpayment that has arisen, or the determination of a penalty...These appeals are to the Unified Appeals Tribunal, which is independent of HMRC..." here's HMRC hiding behind their different terminology again, knowing that "appeals" are not the "disputes" we make when seeking to avoid recovery of our non-fault overpayments.

Claimants [are]routinely being told “you cannot appeal” against recovery of the alleged overpayments without being advised that they can dispute, challenge and complain."It is not the case that we 'routinely' tell custoimers that they cannot appeal..." Can anyone receiving a letter demanding back an overpayment please tell me if letters are still being worded in this way, or are people now being told of their right to dispute recovery, and that "appeals" are only about initial calculations of entitlement and any penalties imposed? Because, if so, I stand corrected.

HMRC [is] operating a dual track process – lightning speed for recovery and snails pace for amendments and answers. "i do not recognise your description that we act at 'lightning speed to recover an overpayment but at snails pace for amendment and answers'. I would refer you again to COP26 which confirms that we should accurately record what a customer tells us within 30 days of our getting all the relevant information. If we fail to achieve that deadline, any overpayment caused by our delay after that date will be remitted". Okay, there's one to hold them to, folks!

HMRC [is] taking premature court action and deliberately disallowing claimants – who have expected a fair trial and “to have their day in court” – from having their cases re-examined by the judge. " I am concerned by your assertion that 'often the first sign for a claimant that anything is wrong is a court summons'. This should not be the case....We will only take court action where a customer refuses to pay sums due, taking hardship considerations as part of that process, or where, despite all efforts, we have been unable to establish any contact. Even where we do issue a court summons, proceedings can be dropped where a customer agrees a repayment schedule or it is established that recovery would cause hardship". Interesting that there's no mention of allowing that claimant to DISPUTE recovery if they were denied the chance, isn't it? So it's "pay up" or prove permanent abject poverty, nothing else going anywhere near the requirements for a write-off - and we have yet to see anyone get a case dropped for being penniless. Hmmm.

The rhetoric of Labour Ministers [is] not matching the reality of HMRC practice. Hartnett does not respond to this! Draw your own conclusions!

Tokenistic “consultations” which deliberately exclude tax credit victims. Rather than “nothing about us without us” we are seeing “everything about us without us”, with the door firmly locked, bolted and padlocked behind the deliberators. "...The representatives [eg LITRG, CPAG, Citizens Advice] ...would not regard their input into our policy and process developmemts as 'tokenistic'" Hartnett has "turned" my words into something else - placed his own spin - as I am certainly mot "dissing" other organisations who are far larger and more powerful than ourselves, and it's not their INPUT but his OUTPIT which is "tokenistic". Certainly Hartnett goes on to say "I understand that you have contact with a number of representatives from the [Tax Credits Consultation G]roup." This is true, and only HMRC and this government seem to want to shut the doors on us, conveniently. Doesn't Hartnett read the output of LITRG for instance, and read that LITRG to name but one group still thinks there is way to go before the tax credit system is fair?

Data protection issues. "We take very seriously the need to safeguard our customers' details and data. Any failure by an emploee would be a very serious offence which could lead to their being dismissed...Where the customer advises us that they have sent a letter for which we have no record of recieving we will consider each case on merit and, unless there is a history of such incidences, give the customer the benefit of doubt". This is a quote some of you might like to include in your complaints and requests for reconsideration of recovery, and we will see, won't we, just what "benefit of doubt" is actually given!

Discriminatory practices. No response. Draw your own conclusions!

HMRC going back on its word. Here follows the usual party line about "600,000 fewer children [living]in relative poverty" as a result of the bountiful HMRC and Brown. I could recreate it here but I have lost the will to live.

"My offer on the 'Tonight' programme was to individuals who felt they had been unfairly treated by us and I do not consider it necessary to have a separate meeting with the Tax Credits Casualties" So that makes it alright, then? And that's another name written wrongly. What a surprise!

So there you have it. Hartnett does not consider us to have been treated unfairly and has no wish to meet with us.





Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 27/07/2009 :  08:04:49  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Anyone who wants to comment can do so here, or write to the man himself if they wish:

Dave Hartnett
Permanent Secretary for Tax
HMRC
100 Parliament Street
London
SW1A 2BQ

We have allies who wanted this meeting - or something like it - to go ahead, so we will continue to try, as will - I am sure - they on our behalves. Just thought you might be interested in the democracy in which we currently live, and to see just how interested those who exercise power over our lives actually are in what we believe and wish for. Real eye-opener, isn't it?

(typo corrected)
Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

Edited by - Ali M-W on 27/07/2009 08:05:45
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 27/07/2009 :  08:06:17  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Let's see what Stephen Timms's line is, when he eventually replies....

Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 29/07/2009 :  18:02:34  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Lol, it's amazing that, within a couple of days of receiving Hartnett's dismissive reply assuring me that people don't get ordered to court or have HMRC officials turn up unannounced at their doors as the first sign that anything might be wrong, and his arguing that HMRC don't go at a snail's pace when dealing with claimant correspondence and requests for info, we have a flurry of posts on this forum contradicting Hartnett's assertions that all is well!

First the Tax Credit Casualty left waiting for a reply for 14 months, and then another who was cold-called on by an HMRC official when she had no idea beforehand that anything was wrong!

Do we need to be writing directly to Hartnett and copying our letters to our MPs when things he states shouldn't happen do? Hartnett says, "If a claimant thinks that...we...have made a mistake they should have no concerns about contacting us to put things right."

Hartnett has clarified that on the "Tonight" programme his offer "was to individuals who felt they had been unfairly treated by us". Here's the man's address:

Dave Hartnett
Permanent Secretary for Tax
HMRC
100 Parliament Street
London
SW1A 2BQ

Hartnett cites the Ombudsman in saying that HMRC now "arrive at decisions which are fair and consistent for large numbers of claimants". If you don't feel that HMRC's decisions are "fair and consistent", then I would encourage writing to the man!



Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Alan the Geordie
Admin



3032 Posts

Posted - 29/07/2009 :  21:32:06  Show Profile Send Alan the Geordie a Private Message
I'd be interested to see just how many of our members take the trouble to do this!!



"The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible
reductions. In this way the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed."

Adolf Hitler
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 01/08/2009 :  07:12:50  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
I think the simple answer, Alan, is that people think such actions futile, and that they can't make a difference, when actually we all can. Good job Joanna Lumley never felt that way. Or Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa...

Or put this way:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me -
and by then there was no one left to speak out for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller


Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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