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Rank; Really should become a politician

690 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2007 :  12:59:46  Show Profile Send sammy a Private Message
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Rank; Really should become a politician

690 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2007 :  13:02:39  Show Profile Send sammy a Private Message
Q26 ‘We have previously explained court is not the correct place to challenge overpayments.
They never explained to me?
….’Unfortunately, often the customers who end up in court are those who refuse to enter into dialogue with us…’
Their idea of dialogue is ‘we have told you once about the overpayment, pay it back by blah date, or you will be summoned to court’
A nice one-way dialogue?

They go on to say …‘We continue to encourage customers to engage in discussions as to these alternatives, such as seeking time to pay’
So it seems again their ‘discussions’ have pre-determined outcomes.
Btw we are not customers a ‘customer’ has a choice of products/services. Just thought I’d nit-pick.

Q16 Compliance with human rights legislation.
‘Our solicitors ensure that all our legislation is compliant with the human rights act and monitor development in case law. As our guidance flows from that legislation it is compliant with the act.’
Call me stupid but the act clearly states everyone is entitled to a fair trial, that bit don’t seem to be flowing.

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Rank; Really should become a politician

United Kingdom
625 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2007 :  18:08:51  Show Profile Send auntieh a Private Message
Humphh - Question 7. Where telephone calls weren't recorded between Jan 03 and September 04 we would write off the overpayment. HOwever, we would expect that overpayments relating to this period would have been dealt with. Not true - mine first came to light in 2006.

They have not adhered to this policy in my case but I shall quote this in my next letter.
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Alan the Geordie

3032 Posts

Posted - 02/10/2007 :  20:00:10  Show Profile Send Alan the Geordie a Private Message
As Oz from Auf weidersein pet would say .. "Ahh Bollox!"

"Broons aall roond f'th' lads an' mind ye divvent drop yer dottles on th' new proggy mat!!"
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Ali M-W

3558 Posts

Posted - 03/10/2007 :  07:56:26  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
We're going to write a reply, for the hell of it, but there's a school of thought that Tracy Gale is past her sell-by date and all we will now get from her is obfuscations, denials, refusals, rebuttals and 'can't do that under FoI as data doesn't exist and will cost too much to get'. So the quarry has now changed.

We want now to meet with Jane Kennedy. Consider this: we were urged to accept a meeting with HMRC by Primarostrich in lieu of a meeting with her. The sweetener was a 'Report' to be prepared by HMRC and given to Primarostrich, who was 'eagerly awaiting' it. When she moved on to pastures new, we were told Jane Kennedy would receive that report.

You can now all see for yourselves, in the link Sammy has kindly created for us, that that promise has been reneged on. Apparently, meetings etc. between officials and Ministers are shrouded in secrecy. We're not stupid - there's no report, will never be any report. We were lied to.

This let-down is going to the Press. We have a Whistleblower talking to the Press. We're getting powerful cross-party support from Ministers now, and something must give. We cannot be dismissed, ignored and lied to forever. No government can disenfranchise millions of its electorate and get away with it for more than a handful of years. The truth that HMRC and this government fear will soon be bursting forth and the public will have the reality revealed to them in all its Orwellian glory.

We must insist that Jane Kennedy comes to the table. Please help - please enlist your MP's support in bringing her there. Media too, if you can...

We also have a lawyer interested in our cause, found by Sarah, by the way - and if he will take this on pro bono (he's high profile) then we will be a force to be reckoned with.

Even my New Labour MP seems more supportive and conciliatory these days...

Morpheus : Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

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240 Posts

Posted - 03/10/2007 :  18:30:47  Show Profile Send n/a a Private Message
Ali - if a large group could meet Jane at House of Commons asap we could make an impact.
Need some notice, but would try to meet.
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Alan the Geordie

3032 Posts

Posted - 03/10/2007 :  23:28:17  Show Profile Send Alan the Geordie a Private Message
<<Even my New Labour MP seems more supportive and conciliatory these days...>>

Would this be the same New Labour MP of yours who was supportive of your claim until she landed herself a cushy number with The Treasury?

Are we to assume that since Primarolo has gone her honeymoon period with The Treasury has ended and she now feels obliged to come crawling back to you?

If this is the case, then here we have yet another New Labour MP who is easily capable of walking under a snake's belly while wearing a top hat!

"Broons aall roond f'th' lads an' mind ye divvent drop yer dottles on th' new proggy mat!!"
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Edited by - Alan the Geordie on 03/10/2007 23:30:45
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Ali M-W

3558 Posts

Posted - 06/10/2007 :  08:45:18  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Alan, if Sarah McCarthy-Fry helps get us that meeting with Jane Kennedy, I will give her another chance. I still have a different favourite for my cross next time out, but she is my MP and we are stuck with each other for the time being - and I will try to be pleasant and patient with her. She may yet be helpful. And I'm sure there will come a time when New Labour MPs will realise that the days of denial are over, and it may be best just to admit things aren't perfect and to be seen to be dealing with them in an honest, open way. I don't know what this myth of perfection is about with MPs - aren't they just humans like us and fallible? What's so terrible, after all, about saying, 'yes, actually, although we meant well with tax credits we did make some terrible mistakes and we're going to put them right'? I know who I'd rather have running the country - someone who at least admitted their mistakes and did their utmost to out them right. Isn't the inability to ever feel in the wrong and show remorse a psychopathic trait?

Morpheus : Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

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Ali M-W

3558 Posts

Posted - 07/10/2007 :  19:41:51  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
For anyone having difficulty sleeping - call it a cure for insomnia, or the latest reply to HMRC - the choice is yours:

Tracy Gale
Benefits and Credits Group
100 Parliament Square

Dear Tracy,

Having received your letter dated 26th September 2007, it is remarkable how few questions and requests you have been willing or able to answer, but I will persevere.

Meeting Minutes and Jane Kennedy Report.
The TCC representatives who met with you last June find it hard to believe that minutes are not circulated to all attendees as a matter of course and courtesy. Anita Rakhra was making notes throughout the meeting and that seemed to be her only purpose as she certainly did not contribute. James Snook was also taking notes for much of the meeting. We know that you have notes available from the meeting and the unwillingness to share these, together with your readiness to backtrack on promises and offers made, makes us uncomfortable.

Without such minutes we do wonder how and when Jane Kennedy is going to furnished with the report that you originally promised her predecessor Dawn Primarolo, if you have no significant record of our discussions? This is the report that Dawn Primarolo has written to me on several occasions saying she anticipated, and was ‘eagerly awaiting’, and I enclose a copy of one such letter. Your colleague David Skinner assured me over two weeks ago that he would raise the issue of this outstanding report with you urgently. If there is to be no report, please let us know as a matter of urgency, as we will then need to take our concerns directly to Jane Kennedy. Indeed, we are now asking to meet with her, and hope you will support us in this.

Write-off thresholds
You have refused to advise the TCC of the thresholds for writing off overpayments stating that ‘to do so has the potential to open up avenues for systemic abuse’. I do not accept this. Could I remind you of the following job specifications for a recently advertised HMRC managerial position:

‘HMRC’s strategy and ambition is customer-focussed and Individuals Customer Unit leads in the delivery of this focus. …Trust. Believing our customers are honest unless we have good reason to doubt it. Being trustworthy and trusting each other.’ [my italics]

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group has noted: ‘To avoid the system being biased in favour of those ‘in the know’ (HMRC) against those ‘in the dark’ (most taxpayers), HMRC should routinely advise taxpayers of their rights’. You must be logged in to see this link. Alongside better knowledge of our rights, claimants need greater honesty, trust and transparency. We are disappointed that once again we have been fobbed off with the rebuttals and refusals that your letter unfortunately abounds with.

Are the ‘efficiency savings’ you go on to mention Gershon efficiency savings? If so there should be a record of the quantity of savings achieved and how. If these are generally available, why can we not see them?

Targets for reclaiming overpayments
You state that HMRC sets no targets for the recovery of overpayments, yet it has repeatedly been alleged by HMRC’s union, and subsequently confirmed by whistleblowing employees, that a system of ‘scores on doors’ operates; it is considered preferable to handle ten dispute cases with a cursory glance rather than two thoroughly. You have refused us the opportunity to visit the overpayments dispute team, apparently ‘because of the need for customer confidentiality’, which could easily have been preserved with minimal precautions and the provision of an HMRC escort. Again, as the LITRG has identified, we are kept ‘in the dark’, and all avenues we suggest for better mutual understanding are quickly closed and barricaded. There is a world of difference between confidentiality and cloak-and-dagger secrecy, and I am sorry that once again, in dashing our expectations of better two-way communication, your policy falls short of one of HMRC’s professed aim: ‘Customer focus. Putting our customers at the heart of everything we do; understanding them and responding to their behaviours and expectations.’

Whether you remit or whether you reject a dispute, you note that 'in both scenarios the disputed overpayment must be investigated in full'. We feel that is plainly not happening, unless 'investigated in full' translates as 'we'll look at the things that suit us'. We do not feel you are being honest with us. Indeed, throughout your letter, 'confidentiality' and 'disproportionate costs' seem to be common themes, despite all the LITRG’s recommendations for greater openness and better dialogue with claimants on more equal terms.

Proposed Amnesty for Overpayments.
In our last letter we asked you if you had raised the issue of an Amnesty with Dawn Primarolo or with her replacement, the Financial Secretary Jane Kennedy, and when the report which Dawn Primarolo professed to so eagerly await would be ready for her successor? You seem reluctant to answer the question we actually asked. Instead you write:

‘Ministers are aware that some lobby groups and claimants have recommended that there should be a tax credit overpayment amnesty…I am unable to go into further detail about the matters covered, however, as discussions between officials and Ministers are confidential.’

That discussions between officials and Ministers are confidential is fair enough. However, as you yourself agreed, when we met with you on 12th June, to passing our request for an amnesty on, you should be able to say if you did this or not even if you are unable to say what the response was.

Is there going to be a Report to Jane Kennedy, as promised, or not? Having been promised one, and having been denied a meeting with Dawn Primarolo on the spurious pretext that our meeting with you would subsequently produce this ‘eagerly awaited’ report, do we not have a right to know if we have been fobbed off (again) and led (once again) to expect something that was not going to be delivered? We would appreciate your being honest with us.

Discourteous Treatment by a member of your team.
You have asserted that ‘I do not actually accept that any member of my team displayed discourtesy to you’, and we will have to agree to differ here. At least our views have been noted.

Handling of Complaints and Disputes.
I can understand your great reluctance to answer our questions around:
a) the amount of time you would consider reasonable in responding to complaints and disputes;
b) the effect that not actually knowing how long these key tasks take has on your quality control, troubleshooting, future targets, response times, effective use of taxpayers’ money, staff morale, and customers’ faith in the system; and
c) the backlogs we know to exist in the system.

You do, however, mention Service Delivery Agreement targets, with HMRC’s performance apparently measured against them in your Annual Report. You note that you are also ‘held to account by the National Audit Office, the Ombudsman, The Adjudicator’s Office and Commons’ Select Committees such as Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Select Committee’. All these have identified problems with the unacceptably high level of overpayments within the system and how claimants are routinely chased for recovery regardless of the fact that they have done nothing wrong. You will be aware that despite Report after Report, claimants are still awaiting justice, whether it comes in the form of an independent tribunal, Amnesty, or scrapping of the ‘reasonable belief’ test, and this is why we now want to insist on a meeting of the TCC with Jane Kennedy, with or without your team. I hope you will support us in this request.

Lost Calls
We are pleased that you have now decided that if a claimant had made a call which was unrecorded or unretrievable, and was therefore unable to prove that wrong advice was given, they ‘would be given benefit of doubt and overpayment remitted on grounds of wrong advice’. Does this now mean that those who have already lost disputes at the Adjudicator or Ombudsman stage due to the absence of supporting evidence are now able to have their cases reviewed and overpayments remitted? Please could you also clarify your last sentence under the ‘Lost Calls’ heading. Are you saying that you do not expect there to be many cases of this kind arising now, the bulk of the missing calls being between January 2003 and September 2004? If this is what you are claiming, unfortunately people are still receiving overpayment demands dating from this time, although the Shadow Chancellor has suggested that there should not be any recovery of overpayments this old. Please could you clarify whether HMRC can recover overpayments discovered over a year later, about which claimants have never previously been advised?

Furthermore, our members’ experience does tend to suggest that SARN requests fail to generate calls from much more recent periods than from January 2003 to September 2004, indicating that this problem is ongoing. Since it is often the case that missing calls from SARN requests are those containing helpful evidence for claimants, are you able to reassure us that HMRC do not edit out calls which might show their staff in a less favourable light?

Standards of Performance in HMRC
Although you have not commented on the LITRG quote which highlighted that the ‘wrong figures’ were being measured and that a 97% accuracy rate in processing only produced ‘40% of payments [which] are in fact correct’ (You must be logged in to see this link. ), I am pleased that you ‘maintain significant quality assurance and disciplinary frameworks….and have clear guidance for managers who identify staff who fall short of the required standard’. It has for too long felt as though ‘customers’ were held responsible for all errors, however caused, with HMRC staff remaining unaccountable.

I notice that you pass no comment on the miss-selling of tax credits as ‘Money with your name on it’ rather than its more accurate description: ‘Debt’ or ‘Loan’. We are taking legal advice on this.

Whilst we note your good intentions in striving ‘to meet the high levels of customer service our customers expect', it is a sad indictment of HMRC that many claimants now expect you to get things wrong, as evidenced by the lack of take-up and the ‘opting out’ of previous claimants from making further claims.

Changing Circumstances and the Reasonable Belief Test
We asked you if you would ‘finally acknowledge that we were never properly warned that overpayments were inbuilt, that the Revenue was extremely fallible, and that the accountability was vicariously transferred to us?’ You have skirted this, and have, I feel, missed the point. Even with claimants aware that they should inform you of all ‘changes of circumstances that may affect their tax credits’, you will know that this is not why problems commonly arise; it is far more complex than that. Too many claimants advise changes or pick up HMRC mistakes and advise you of them, only to find these are not properly recorded or corrected, and they are subsequently held responsible – quite unfairly.

Subject Access Requests
Thank you for acknowledging that you ‘have recently been experiencing some delays in providing copies of recordings of telephone calls’ as a result of ‘the exceptionally high demand for this service and some technical problems’. It is heartening that you are now starting to enclose details of how to contact the Information Commissioner when claimants request their details, addressing a previous deficit (this information not routinely having been supplied to those requesting their data).

One claimant’s response to your statement that it takes 40 days to comply with subject access requests was, “Who are they kidding? Mine took 13 months, 3 letters and 2 phone calls. The guy I rang the first time told me it takes 8-10 weeks to get the phone records, now I know I'm not brilliant at maths but unless there are only 4 days in a week......” I am sorry to say that our members are finding this all the time.

Making Complaints
In answer to our question about making it clear to claimants how they can complain, you say you are now providing ‘step by step advice on how to complain’, and if this is now being sent out ‘as a matter of course’, this is to be welcomed. You fail, however, to answer the following questions:
a) If or how you ‘note and act upon errors and malpractices highlighted in claimants’ letters?’
b) Whether or not you ‘read between the lines’ and treat as complaints those letters in which complaints are implicit rather than explicit, as recommended by the LITRG.
c) What you recommend, when claimants have asked questions which you fail to answer, in order to elicit replies (there being a certain irony in the fact that you have consistently failed to answer formal questions raised by the TCC as well as individually by claimants!)

We are pleased to learn that ‘Demonstrating our commitment to improving our service to customers’ is a core objective of HMRC’s, with ‘re-training, disciplinary action, rewards and incentives’ all playing their part; also that ‘any need for improvement highlighted by complaints, whether formal or informal, is taken into account’. We look forward to seeing grassroots evidence that this is happening, and await contact from our many members informing us that their complaints have finally been acknowledged and alleged overpayments finally remitted.

Unfortunately, as one claimant has pointed out, the procedure for complaints does not help claimants as you cannot move to step two and approach the Adjudicator until you have a response from HMRC on the original complaint. Therefore, it would appear to be in HMRC's interest not to respond to complaints, which is exactly what we are seeing happen. Delays also put claimants at risk of being deemed as not engaging with HMRC, hastening court recovery processes, which is clearly unfair.

Avoiding premature court procedings.
We asked what measures were being put in place to ensure no court action is taken before the claimant has exhausted the dispute process. When you assert ‘there are already measures in place’, we find this very difficult to believe, as we have no shortage of claimants who are being threatened with court action whilst their cases are still in dispute. These measures clearly are not working, otherwise we would not keep hearing of claimants who continue to receive letters threatening court action (including in courts that do not exist in England).

If you are sincere in your wish to learn from past mistakes and complaints and truly improve practice, as you have indicated, we need a clear means of alerting you to the fact that certain cases you are preparing for court are still in dispute. Until this is established there remains a grave danger of miscarriage of justice. Please can we set up lines of averting court action with you as a matter of urgency?

Ongoing dialogue between TCC and HMRC.
There remains a certain irony in your statement, ‘Despite the concerns you express, my own personal assumption is that there is already an honest and open dialogue between us’, which directly precedes two refusals: your rejection of the suggestion that we join the Tax Credits Consultation Group (about which I will say more later), and your refusal of our request ‘to meet decision makers on the office floor’, which you attribute to customer confidentiality concerns. Let’s consider all you have refused us so far:

• You have no meeting minutes for us.
• You fail to mention the long-promised Dawn Primarolo/Jane Kennedy Report – our rationale for meeting with you in the first place, if you remember.
• You refuse to tell us the write-off thresholds, lest this invites ‘systemic abuse’
• You will not discuss ‘matters covered…between officials and Ministers’, so we have no idea whether we are being fobbed off or whether our serious, well-researched and well-evidenced concerns are actually being taken forward.
• You denied that David Woodhouse gurned and pulled condescending and infantile facial expressions during our meeting, yet why would we make this up?
• You have sidestepped various questions around complaints, disputes, court action and the reasonableness test, among many others.
• You continually refer us to websites, manuals and Hansard debates rather than answering our questions directly and accessibly. We, on the other hand, clearly evidence our statements either with links to reports or case examples, making it easy for you to understand what we know.
• Only now, it appears, have you started sending details of the Information Commissioner out with SARN requests.

This is only partway through your letter, and already all we are receiving is denials, refusals and rebuttals. As LITRG has often commented, you retain all the power and continue to shroud your processes in unnecessary secrecy. Any real dialogue, as you know, involves more give and take than we are seeing here. We now wish to cut to the quick and meet directly with Jane Kennedy. HMRC and this government may have all the time in the world to deny, hide, obscure, stall, pontificate and generally delay, but claimants do not have the luxury of infinite time, and time is running out on many of us. Please secure us this long overdue meeting with the Financial Secretary and we will at last believe that our dialogue is more than tokenistic, ticking the boxes of ‘customer consultation’ without your yielding an inch in terms of practice and customer centredness.

We would furthermore like to have it on record again that Christine Fox specifically said in our June meeting that we would be added to the Tax Credits Consultation Group. If you had produced minutes, these would show that this was agreed. As you do not have these, you will have to rely on our minutes which show this. I therefore refer you to page 8 on the minutes, just above half way down.

Consultation ‘directly with customers’ on the new COP26
I am pleased to hear that ‘there will also be wider consultation directly with customers’ over the new COP26, and we now need you to tell us how this is being facilitated and what role you expect the TCC to have in this.

Human Rights Abuses
You state with remarkable confidence that ‘our solicitors ensure that all our legislation is compliant with the Human Rights Act and monitor developments in case law’, and that because ‘our guidance flows from that legislation it is compliant with the Act’. We would beg to differ.

Every pro bono lawyer we have consulted to date has identified huge deficits in HMRC’s policy, as well as a potential charge of Corporate Negligence in the way an ill-conceived system which had already generated similar overpayment recovery problems in Australia was replicated in Britain without adequate warnings or precautions. Solicitors have only been reluctant to undertake this work without ongoing payment because of the enormity of the task, rather than because of the fragility of our case, and it is only a matter of time before we establish a means of pursuing this as fully as the extent of the Human Rights abuses we are experiencing deserves.

Deductions from ongoing awards whilst claimants are still in dispute.
You invite us to submit ‘examples of cases where this has happened’, and we will gladly oblige, for deductions should not take place whilst a claimant is pursuing a dispute.

Lack of information on the costs of recovery of overpayments.
Although before our meeting with you in June, you seemed willing to provide us with these figures and even promised them to me in advance of the meeting, to be given to me at the meeting, it seems you have since had a change of heart and are now maintaining that ‘it would be too costly to provide you with this information’. You also state, ‘The deterrent effect of recovering overpayments on future fraud and abuse is a further factor which has to be considered’. Your refusal fails to consider the overwhelming number of honest claimants caught up in this mess, let alone insider fraud, which we now have evidence (currently with the Press and Shadow Chancellor’s Office) costs the fraudsters rather less than it does the innocent claimants whose details they are using. Where can the ‘deterrent effect’ here be, other than in preventing people like ourselves from ever wishing to receive tax credits again? We do not see your withholding information as in any way a deterrent on fraud and abuse (because those people are frequently willing to gamble or are so good at the game that this is not an issue) but deplore the effect this has on innocent people, and consider this a poor excuse, as indeed would the LITRG, I am sure, once aware of this.

As I noted in my previous letter, John Andrews from the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (You must be logged in to see this link. ) notes how the Freedom of Information Act is a ‘valuable safeguard’, as long as ‘an over-zealous interpretation of the exemptions it gives [does not] diminish its value unnecessarily’. He notes that ‘care should be taken that the spirit of the FOI should be followed to promote openness and freedom of information, not the exemptions in the FOI used as a pretext for secrecy’, which appears to be exactly what you are doing with it here.

The Tax Credit Casualties continue to wonder how you can ever ‘know how cost-effective your business is, and how far you are truly protecting the public purse through the current application of CoP26 and the reasonable belief test’ , or set budgets in the absence of such information.

Learning from HMRC’s mistakes through TCC members’ cases
We find your statement ‘Appropriate mechanisms are already in place for individual complaints to be dealt with in the speediest and efficient manner’ as hilarious as it is inaccurate. Please do not insult us by pretending that complaints are ever dealt with speedily or efficiently. The founding members of TCC all have cases dating back from 2004 or before, and I am still awaiting a reply to a complaint I sent to you in August 2004, your having ‘lost’ this letter not once but twice!

Floods and Tax Credit Disputes
As you have not denied that the Financial Secretary’s more sympathetic treatment of flood victims was due at least in part to our earlier request to you, we are welcoming this as a TCC success and a positive sign that occasionally your department will listen to us, for which I thank you – and only wish it were more frequent.

Maternity Leave Trap
As you have said you are still considering this issue, we will wait to hear from you.

Bad experiences and unclaimed tax credits
You have agreed that it is ‘regrettable that anyone may have been put off claiming their tax credit entitlement by their experiences’. Indeed, this is a common phenomena with members of the TCC and their families, and I note that you have now changed your policy to allow victims to exit the tax credit system without the bizarre penalties formerly imposed on potential escapees. This is to be welcomed, and you will be aware that I have asked the Adjudicator for a Tax Credit Divorce. Are you able to explain why HMRC still feel the need to pursue claimants for overpayments in hundreds or low thousands of pounds when these claimants have voluntarily and permanently left the tax credit system due to their abominable experiences, confirm they have no intention of ever returning, and are actually saving the government thousands of pounds in unclaimed tax credits through this decision? Cannot the unclaimed tax credits be offset against outstanding balances? And will you allow voluntary leavers to opt into having their unclaimed entitlement offset against another person’s overpayment if this is their choice? The TCC has often asked that unclaimed tax credits be used to write off overpayments and that the slate be wiped clean for a complete overhaul of the tax credit system. Have you any comments to make on this?

Premature use of the Certificate of Debt to seal claimants’ status as ‘debtors’.
I note your statement that ‘often the customers who end up in court are those who refuse to enter into dialogue with us’ (my italics). This concerns me for several reasons. Firstly, ‘often’ implies the exceptions we are ourselves seeing, when ‘customers’ would happily engage with you but are receiving so little support from you to be able to pursue their cases through the usual dispute channels that they are either oblivious of their rights through HMRC’s use of obscure semantics (eg. being told they cannot ‘appeal’ without being advised they can ‘dispute’, which is what most actually want to do), or are willfully misled into thinking they will have a proper hearing, and their ‘day in court’. Secondly, I do worry when you talk of customers refusing ‘to enter into dialogue’ with you, because I know from bitter experience how many of my letters have been lost, ignored, or responded to completely inappropriately. How easy would it be for HMRC to lose vital correspondence (bearing in mind how you managed to lose my letter of August 2004 not just once, but twice) and then maintain that the customer never sent anything? It has happened with renewal packs, complaints and – according to the media – one million items of customer mail. You need to be really sure that it is in fact the customer who has stopped corresponding with you, rather than your own inept systems that have caused you to lose calls, letters, paperwork and renewals. The TCC is currently looking into the legality of use of this Certificate and how this undermines claimants’ Human Rights to a Fair Trial and No Punishment Without Law.

I note that you do not explain or give any information about what the Certificate of Debt is, or the conditions applied to its use.

When you state that ‘we have previously explained court is not the correct place to challenge overpayments’, our member Mr SE comments, ‘they never explained it to me’. Furthermore, in response to your claim that ‘unfortunately, often the customers who end up in court are those who refuse to enter into dialogue with us…’ , he observes from his own experiences: ‘Their idea of dialogue is “we have told you once about the overpayment, pay it back by -- date, or you will be summoned to court” – a nice one-way dialogue.’ We do feel strongly that your rhetoric and actions on the matter of court do differ.

Mr E. notes how you go on to say, ‘We continue to encourage customers to engage in discussions as to these alternatives, such as seeking time to pay’ commenting that ‘it seems again their “discussions” have pre-determined outcomes’. Noting too that you now refer to claimants as customers, we would like to point out that ‘customers’ by definition have a choice of products and services, and we very clearly do not. This seems to make it especially important that you deliver a good, reliable, safe service.

Information for Staff on Whistleblowing
Thank you for finally sending us a copy of information received by your staff on how to whistleblow, as promised in June. The TCC is pleased that we are now in direct contact with HMRC whistleblowers who share our disgust at the treatment of some customers and who are speaking to the Press and senior Ministers about their observations in the hope of some long overdue attitudinal reform and better adherence to established policy.

Application of disregards to HMRC errors with salaries
This is a complex issue first raised by my MP, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, in evidence to the Public Accounts Committee in October 2006, and I can understand why you have misunderstood it. Ms McCarthy-Fry was querying why, when HMRC made errors with recording claimants’ salaries, HMRC could not treat the difference between the correct and incorrect figures (created by HMRC errors) as they would actual salary discrepancies. For example, with today’s disregard £25,000, HMRC would not penalize a claimant whose income rose from £24,000 to £48,000, as they would apply the disregard. Yet they would penalize a claimant whose salary was £24,000 but who had experienced a Tax Credit Office error which had set their salary as zero – despite the difference between the two being within the disregard as well as an HMRC error. This seems wholly unjust. Why should victims of HMRC mistakes lose out when the disregard would be applied elsewhere?

Corporate Negligence
You state that ‘our view is that a legal challenge would be unsuccessful’. Yet we have seen reports that the British tax credit system was rolled out in haste and not fully thought out, and that similar overpayment problems and claimant hardship had occurred in Australia from which the British government failed to learn. We have a high profile lawyer currently looking at this. I include Wikepedia’s definition:

Negligence means conduct that is culpable because it misses the legal standard required of a reasonable person in protecting individuals … Negligent behavior towards others gives them rights to be compensated for the harm to their body, property, mental well-being, financial status, or relationships… First, the defendant must have had a duty of care towards the claimant… Second…the claimant must show that the defendant has breached that duty by not exercising reasonable care. The plaintiff must further show that the defendant's negligence contributed to cause harm to the claimant. Fourth, the harm must not be too remote a consequence of the negligence; that is, the negligence must be a "proximate cause" of the harm. Finally the claimant must be able to establish what kind of damages, or compensation, he should get for his or her harm… You must be logged in to see this link.

Implications of the Financial Secretary’s statement of 25th July
Further to Jane Kennedy’s announcement, before the summer recess, of ‘incorrect procedures’, there have been claims that ‘illegal recovery’ took place, and we await further clarification from you. You will be aware that the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has written an open letter to Alistair Darling. Based on his questions, we would also like to know:

1. Can you prove to us that all other recoveries of tax credit overpayments, apart from the ‘relatively small number of awards where we had reopened the case to correct an error previously made by us’, were legal? Surely in the light of the fact that many were illegally recovered, all non-fraudulent claimants should have the right to challenge recovery?

2. How many awards were administered incorrectly?

3. Will you reimburse every claimant who has been the victim of incorrect administrative procedure?

4. The TCC has it on good authority that Complaints staff have been temporarily reassigned to the immense administrative task of identifying claimants whose cases were incorrectly administered and correcting these errors, leaving their own work undone and complaints unanswered. How long will this task take? How much will it cost? When can claimants expect their complaints to be dealt with? When can those claimants affected expect a refund of sums illegally recovered? Couldn’t staff have been redeployed from the recovery section rather than from complaints?

5. Although Jane Kennedy’s statement of 25 July refers to “errors” in the years 2003-4 and 2004-5, have you determined whether similar failures occurred in later years?

6. When was HMRC first aware of this administrative failure? When were Ministers first informed of these incorrect procedures?

How many of the 37,000 court actions brought by HMRC in recent months a) failed to secure a judgment of debt, b) were postponed, and c) were subsequently abandoned?

Again, you refuse us this information on the grounds that ‘the cost of providing you with these statistics would be disproportionate’. The fact that you ‘have had few problems in obtaining judgements in these cases’ owes more, we feel, to the fact that HMRC has the power to issue certificates which are taken as the last word in such matters (whether or not the proper procedures have been followed, the claimant has concluded the dispute process or has been cut off prematurely from it, or knows that the court case is not a hearing or independent tribunal) than to any inherent justice in the decision. This, no doubt, will be tested by our pro bono lawyers in the future.

You state ‘a relatively small number of cases have been adjourned for clarification’, but since you earlier referred to Jane Kennedy’s ‘need to review around 160,000 awards’ as ‘a relatively small number of awards’, your definition of ‘relatively small’ is obviously of a different magnitude to ours. How many cases have actually been ‘adjourned for clarification’ to the nearest 10,000, please?

Restoration of parts of the online manual only visible to HMRC staff
You state: ‘it was unfortunate that a message was displayed saying this information had been withdrawn under Freedom of Information; this was not correct’, and we are pleased that the information is now available, uncensored. We are only sorry that it was not available prior to our meeting with you.

Agreement to remit all/part of an overpayment made ‘in the wrong capacity’ through genuine error.
We are pleased that you have now agreed that ‘from 17 May we will consider remitting all or part of an overpayment where an original claim was made in the wrong capacity as a result of a genuine error by the claimant’, with ‘wrong capacity’ being defined as a single claim made instead of a joint one, and vice versa.

Disputing overpayments already recovered or in recovery
Thank you for confirming that it is possible to dispute recovery of an overpayment at any stage; when first identified and before recovery, when already being recovered, and when paid off. We understand that certain conditions apply, and that the claimant needs to have believed their original overpayment was money they were entitled to, and HMRC must have made mistakes which created or increased this overpayment. It is also heartening to know that even when HMRC has secured a court judgment, that ‘theoretically the judgement could be reviewed if later information was provided concerning the debt but it would be for the customer to provide the information to the court and make representations to the court rather than to us’.

I also note that ‘the court takes enforcement action against the judgement where we ask them so to do’, which opens the possibility of claimants who have been victims of miscarriages of justice due to premature court action approaching you and asking you not to ask the court to enforce the repayments. This will be good news for our member Mr SE., featured recently in Readers Digest.

Mixed HMRC messages: your claim that it is 'inappropriate to deal with individual cases' in our discussions with you.
You conclude your letter on a note of reproach, stating that ‘it is 'inappropriate to deal with individual cases, including your own, in this way’ yet in an earlier comment under the heading ‘Threshold for writing off overpayments’ you say 'without knowing details about individual cases, it is not possible to comment…' which implies that you want to know about individual cases. It is totally unfair to generate mixed messages in this way, and then act as though we are being presumptuous by flagging up examples to illustrate the points we are making. Mighty Goliath evidently wants David to operate his sling with his hands tied behind his back! It is not acceptable to offer denials on the one hand for want of evidence, whilst refusing to answer case-specific questions which we have painstakingly evidenced through our knowledge of specific cases.

In August I wrote:

Whilst to illustrate the points we are raising, we have quoted specifically from those cases we are most familiar with, which tend to be our own, I am sure you understand that we are not seeking preferential treatment but trying to provide you with evidence of the key problem areas where we and innumerable other claimants have been badly let down, in order that you can put this right to the benefit of all the ‘customers’ who have entrusted you to pay them the right tax credits… Your honesty and good faith is essential if a poorly delivered system is to significantly improve.

I have often cited my own case purely and simply because all our letters to you are put in the public domain and circulated widely to MPs, the Press etc., according to the issues raised, and whilst I have countless Casualties’ permission to share directly with you, I do not always have their permission to publish this letter on our website, forum or anywhere else where it can be publicly viewed. Paula is arranging for cases other than our own to be sent to you in a more confidential way, and in future discussions I intend to use pseudonyms in order to bring more cases to your attention.

It is purely and simply because HMRC cannot deal fairly, efficiently and reasonably with disputes and complaints that so many people are coming to us for support, urging us to put their cases before you. Even actions promised at our meeting in June are not being delivered, helped no doubt by your careful contrivance that no meeting minutes should be made available on your part to hold you to account. Indeed, Sarah has asked me whether David Skinner had any comment to make on her case? We remember that he was going to look at it as an example of how court threats are sent even when there is an active dialogue with the claimant, and I clearly recall handing you a folder of individual cases and other evidence on 12th June to which we have still had no response, formal or individual.

If you remain unwilling to be confronted with overwhelming evidence of the problems, and the profound hardship and anguish caused, how can you ever put this gravely flawed and frequently abusive system right?

Yours sincerely,

Alison Myers-Ward,

On behalf of the Tax Credit Casualties.

cc. Jane Kennedy, Financial Secretary
George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor

Morpheus : Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

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Rank; Really should become a politician

United Kingdom
625 Posts

Posted - 07/10/2007 :  21:45:20  Show Profile Send auntieh a Private Message
Excellent letter Ali. It will be interesting to see whether any more illuminaing information is forthcoming as a result. I do wonder whether it would be more productive to go straight to Jane Kennedy to request a meeting with her rather than continue to use intermediaries who seem intent on stalling and obfuscation.

Glad you have used my favourite word - spurious! I've always liked it! Not sure why!
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Alan the Geordie

3032 Posts

Posted - 07/10/2007 :  22:58:32  Show Profile Send Alan the Geordie a Private Message
That letter really is a masterpiece!

And soooo long too - almost long enough to be continued!

Ali, I stand in awe of you.

Let's hope it generates a favourable response.

(after her heroic effort in writing that massive missive Ali could be forgiven for taking a couple of days off to rest!)

"Broons aall roond f'th' lads an' mind ye divvent drop yer dottles on th' new proggy mat!!"
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Edited by - Alan the Geordie on 08/10/2007 10:39:27
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Ali M-W

3558 Posts

Posted - 08/10/2007 :  12:04:36  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
You are soooo kind! Probably a complete waste of time, but quite cathartic to write.

We're asking now to see Jane Kennedy.

Morpheus : Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

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Alan the Geordie

3032 Posts

Posted - 08/10/2007 :  18:23:45  Show Profile Send Alan the Geordie a Private Message
Originally posted by Ali M-W

You are soooo kind! Probably a complete waste of time, but quite cathartic to write.

We're asking now to see Jane Kennedy.

Morpheus : Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

Is she the sister of Nigel?

He's a canny fiddle player ye kna!

"Broons aall roond f'th' lads an' mind ye divvent drop yer dottles on th' new proggy mat!!"
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Ali M-W

3558 Posts

Posted - 01/12/2007 :  10:37:56  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Someone in HMRC is listening - I think!

TK - a contact I have, who does get involved a little in decision-making, and who answers to someone who answers to Richard Summersgill. Concerned with learning lessons and quality control.

TK won't consider individual cases but is interested in mistakes made, and learning from them.

I mentioned that piece in the TC manual which prevents the TCO from bringing things up which might help the claimant if the claimant doesn't. That was one of Splash's gems, I recall. If you could find it again for me, Splash - I'd be grateful!


Agent Smith: I hate this place, this zoo, this prison, this reality, whatever you want to call it.

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