Employees of Concentrix had distressed callers
A new report by the BBC has highlighted that a firm used by the government to stop tax credit payments received calls from distressed clients.
Last week US firm Concentrix, a subcontractor for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) overseeing incorrect or fraudulent tax credit payments, learned it would not have its contract renewed once it expires in May 2017. The company was the subject of complaints from members of the public, including for incorrectly stopping payments and failing to send warning letters to customers.
A whistleblower at Concentrix's Belfast call centre told the BBC he had spoken to hundreds of low income householders, who claimed their tax credits had been stopped without receiving a letter telling them to provide information within 30 days or their benefits would be halted.
He added: "It couldn't be a coincidence, so many people calling in that haven't met each other saying that they hadn't received this letter... I personally have spoken to hundreds of them.”
The whistleblower also said that staff often had "people crying down the phone to you that they're down to their last bag of wipes, have no food in the fridge to feed their kids. We were dealing with people claiming they were going to commit suicide (and) most of the people weren't even trained in how to deal with a suicide call.”
A spokesperson for HMRC explained: "We provide Concentrix with cases which have been flagged as showing potential discrepancies, along with the data we hold and have received from third-parties. Concentrix is then responsible for using their own internal checks to identify which of these cases they think require further investigation.
"Concentrix then writes to the claimant asking for information to verify their claim. If the claimant responds with the right information within the 30-day timescale, their payments will continue. Payments can only be stopped when there is strong evidence to support this course of action.”
Turn2us Chief Executive Officer, Simon Hopkins said: “Tax-credits are very important for people who are working on a low income. Having their claims incorrectly stopped can mean some of the most vulnerable in society needing to cut back on basics like food or heating.
“We have been contacted by people who claim their Working Tax Credit or Child Tax Credit was incorrectly stopped and it has left them under immense financial pressure. Some have told us they are struggling to buy food and one was in danger of losing their home.
“With £15 billion in benefits going unclaimed each year, it is disappointing to learn that those who do claim can be faced with such obstacles. Our own research found that almost half of low income households were not claiming the welfare benefits or tax credits they could be entitled to and worryingly, 30% said they would cut back on food.
“However, it’s crucially important, when we hear stories like this, that no one should feel put off seeking the help for which they qualify. We know from long experience that a massive difference can be made by clarifying the often complex benefits system or by improving access to some of the thousands of charitable and other funds that exist to give people a helping hand when times are tough.
“I would really urge those struggling to make ends meet to find out what support they may be entitled to. The good news is there are lots of sources of help, not just by way of welfare benefits but also charitable grants and other practical support from a range of organisations like ourselves.”
In our “Your Situation” section, we have information pages for people who are Ill, injured or disabled. We also have resources to help you if you are struggling with other life situations, such as Help with housing costs and Bringing up a child.
Our free Benefits Calculator can help you check your entitlement to welfare benefits and tax credits and you can use our Grants Search to check your eligibility for a grant and other support from over 3,000 charitable funds. You can also locate face-to-face advice in your local area with our Find an Adviser tool.