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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 27/03/2008 :  23:24:05  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Last Saturday's 'Cleaning Up the Tax Credits Mess' meeting in Portsmouth reminded me that, whilst the tax credit problems we are having - or have had and are recovering from - cruelly take over our lives, we are still having to patiently wait for our elected representatives to notice us. And I feel to do that, they need a helping hand. Although armed with knowledge of how to dispute our case, and inspired by those who have won before us, I still get a sense from many people that time is running out on many of us, and that we must either win our cases in the next few months, or secure a safer and fairer system that actually encompasses us too...

What came out of that meeting for me is that two things must happen, at least: this campaign must be taken to Westminster, and we must get more publicity. We have our constitution as an organisation, and our key people ready and willing to pull their fingers out and get things done. We have an amazing amount of individual skills and talent as people. We are a cohesive group, despite coming from various backgrounds and having our own individuality. We certainly aren't stupid - even if we did fall hook-line-and-sinker for tax credits. All the groundwork is done - we know our stuff and are ready to engage in a war of words with anyone. We have the beginnings of cross-party support. We have people able to move an audience with their stories. Virtually every element of HMRC's mismanagement is known to us and we can evidence it, whether it be salary zeroing, annulled awards, premature court action, homophobia, the disability trap, maternity leave trap, lost data, careless recovery of 'debts' not even owed, etc., etc. We can easily take our campaign anywhere now.

But our biggest enemy has been TIME. Up till recently, the vast majority of the work involved in this campaign has been done by a handful of people. And the reason isn't lack of hands, or lack of willingness. It's either lack of time, lack of confidence (either new people taking things on, or us "old 'uns" feeling we can hand stuff over, and because people don't like 'treading on toes'.

This campaign is OUR campaign, and we need YOU! This is certainly not a reproach that people haven't been more proactive, since it has been virtually impossible for those who have joined us later to hit the ground running and pick up things to do when - due to casework, pressures of life, our families, life in general, our other responsibilities and health, and... our day jobs - there hasn't been a lot of time or energy available to get others up to speed. And it's not a reproach aimed at the 'founding members', because I know from experience that there hasn't been the time. But I am determined that we will make time. A brilliant example of a new person coming on board and making the most dramatic difference to our campaign is that of our Webmaster, and PJ's 'leap of faith' in entrusting him has resulted in the site we have now. There have been other contributions, too - whether they are 'Letter of the Week' or other ideas...

Right, I have rambled on long enough, but I'd like to throw in some brief suggestions and ideas which I hope we can discuss, develop and then volunteer for (not in any order of priority):

1. Contacting the National Press, tabloids and broadsheets, and (even if nothing as yet makes print) developing some links with key journalists, eg. political or features editors and their consumer watchdogs.

2. Contacting TV and radio programmes such as 'Watchdog', 'Newsnight', 'Law in Action' (again), etc. and getting some airtime. (It's always then possible to pass on the contact details for PJ, Sarah or myself, who have had more experience of talking about the wider issues, if you don't feel confident being the only 'spokesperson' for the TCC.)

3. Linking in, or re-linking, with all organisations we can identify, between ourselves, as having shared or common aims, or representing people who may be on tax credits (eg. in the past I have contacted Citizens Advice, Contact a Family, Child Poverty Action Group, One Parent Families, Families Need Fathers, and Neil Bateman from the National Association of Welfare Rights Advisors, but need to do so again... and there are many others). We need to familiarise them with our campaign, find out what they are doing about tax credit overpayments, ask them for publicity on their site, ask them to host a link, and ask them to consider ways in which we might work together, etc. I did this once, to some extent, and PJ has too, but I let it drop, and we can't.

4. USE all the HMRC insiders who have come our way. They will all have different sympathies and agendas, but we need to establish:
a) Why have they contacted us? Do they have real power to change things, and are they able to take policy suggestions back to decision-makers? Or are they disenchanted with operating the current system and want to privately give us a helping hand with our disputes, whilst staying anonymous and keeping a low profile? Do they just want to find out more about us? Or can they really help us?
b) How can they help us? Can they whistleblow? Can they help us with winning our disputes? Can they tell us more about HMRC's flawed systems? Do they know anything about insider fraud?
c) Do they want to act as consultants for disputes, go-betweens to those capable of changing policy, advisors to individuals stuck with a particular problem, or listeners as to what is wrong with the system?
d) Do they know other people they can bring in? People from the Debt Recovery or Dispute Teams? Policy makers?
e) Do they insist on complete anonymity or are they willing to be known to a few people, other 'insiders', just PJ, all the TCC, the media, or...

I think we could use our insiders more. We need them to help us understand the ever-changing system and what it means in terms of dispute outcomes. What is the write-off threshhold? How much correspondence on a case triggers write-off (rumour has it that x amount of MP letters or a legal challenge tends to prompt HMRC to climb down, but it is just a rumour)? Are there any advantages in a group of insiders working together on a particular issue? Will they? Can we sound them out about policy? Etc., etc.

5. Contact ALL MPs. Not just our own. The Parliamentary Protocol which forbids MPs to work with non-constituents can be got round if you act as a member of a National group which represents that MP's constituents, or can represent those constituents. We need to make sure every MP knows about us. In a perfect world, we would know where our political allies are, and particularly, which Labour MPs might be sympathetic in cross-party EDMs and other challenges to government. We need to know who to target in the Labour Party! (NOT Denis MacShane or Sarah McCarthy-Fry - they are about as much use as a chocolate teacup, and we have tried!)

6. Have a Westminster day. This is looking increasingly possible, and I personally think it's a priority now over further Regional meetings. If Mike Hancock (Lib Dem) and a Conservative book the room (lots of names possible and sympathetic now in the South), a group of us can present there. We still need Case Histories, by the way! (Need a brief account, with first and last name, and place of origin, eg. Alison Myers-Ward, Portsmouth.)

7. Continue to pursue legal action.

8. Fundraise.

I have gone on long enough, so I will leave these suggestions with you all for comments, discussion, additions, etc.

Together we are going to win this. Let's make it soon.


Morpheus: … as long as there is a single breath in his body he'll never give up… and neither can we.

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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 28/03/2008 :  09:02:09  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
There are other campaigning suggestions here, too:

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Morpheus: … as long as there is a single breath in his body he'll never give up… and neither can we.
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