We save bacon of penniless mum fleeced by Government cash officials over tax credits By Graham Hiscott, Deputy Business Editor 3/02/2010
Your Mirror has won justice for a struggling mum left penniless by bungling officials.
After we contacted HM Revenue & Customs, the taxman has coughed up the £1,300 that Suzy Athey has been owed for almost three months.
Her tale of hardship emerged just days after figures showing that 10 people pocketed £1million more in benefits they were entitled to.
At the same time, new research shows £16billion of benefits and tax credits is going unclaimed each year.
Today, Citizens Advice launches a campaign to improve the take-up and ensure vulnerable families and pensioners get the help they need.
The complex system means that while a few people are pocketing bumper benefits they are not entitled to, others in genuine need are not getting the help they deserve – as mum Suzy found to her cost…
She did exactly what the Government’s advertisements told her to – informing HMRC immediately when her circumstances changed to ensure she was getting the right amount of help.
But her promptness and honesty meant that her tax credits were stopped and this left her unable to pay the bills, buy food or afford Christmas presents for her children Luke, 11, and Joe, six.
“I was getting £172 working tax and child tax credits to supplement my low earnings,” says Suzy, from Canvey Island in Essex.
“When my new partner David moved in last November, I got in touch to let them know. I didn’t want to be receiving money I wasn’t entitled to and wanted to avoid having to pay any money back and getting into a mess with my finances.”
The move should only have made a few pounds difference to Suzy but an error by the tax credit office on one of her son’s date of birth meant her payments were stopped altogether.
“I’m really angry. I’ve had to rely on a store charge card and built up a scary overdraft just to be able to buy the basics. I was left totally desperate over Christmas.
“I’ve been trying to live off £500 a month. Our household bills are £1,000 for rent and energy bills – that’s not including food. So it has been impossible for me to manage.”
Since November, Suzy has only received £104. To make matters worse, her partner lost his job last year and the £60 Jobseeker’s Allowance he was receiving ended.
“David has never been out of work and he’s been trying to get a new job but he’s finding it hard. I work part-time from home so I can fit it around the kids.”
The tax credits office agreed to restart Suzy’s regular payments from February 8 but told her she would have to wait until after the end of the tax year in April to receive the £1,300 owed from last year – in case her situation changes again. “I didn’t quite get that. The money is already owed to me from last year and is based on my circumstances then. Only future payments would be affected by any changes from now on.”
Outraged by this jobsworth attitude, we stepped in and Suzy has been promised the cash this week.
“Thanks to my Daily Mirror, I can pay off my debts and stop the constant worry. My oldest needs a new winter coat which I will be able to go out and buy now.”
HM Revenue & Customs says: “Due to our statutory duty of confidentiality, HMRC cannot discuss any individual cases. Tax credits are designed to be responsive to changes in a family’s circumstances. If these change, for example your income falls, then you may be entitled to more help so it is important to let HMRC know as soon as possible so you don’t miss out on extra money.”
Despite those words, the figures tell a different story. There are still families living in poverty and having to fight to receive payments they are due. Moira Haynes, of Citizens Advice, says: “We want to see the same amount of energy and effort invested into making sure people get all the help they’re entitled to as is put into cracking down on benefit fraud.
“People don’t claim for various reasons, ranging from simply not knowing about the help available to being put off by what can seem a daunting process or feeling that the amount they may gain will be negligible. But all too often they are missing out on substantial sums that could make all the difference.”
Anyone with questions about their tax credit award should contact the tax credits helpline on 0845 300 3900.
If you are struggling to make ends meet, then make an appointment to get a free, confidential and independent benefits check at your local Citizens Advice or visit You must be logged in to see this link.
One important thing to remember with tax credits and child benefit: If you have been overpaid you will have to repay the full amount to HMRC.
But, if you have been underpaid, you can only get those payments backdated by up to three months.
You must be logged in to see this link.
I have always said that it pays to get the media involved. HMRC do not like bad publicity.
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.