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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 08:38 GMT 09:38 UK
The misery of tax credit delays

By Sarah Toyne
BBC News Online personal finance reporter

Baby

Families with household incomes of up to £58,000 can now get help from the government's new tax credits.

It is an ambitious plan, with nine in ten or 5.75m families eligible according to government estimates.

So far, more than three million have successfully claimed, and are receiving payments.

But the "one size fits all" plan is still causing problems for many people - and some are becoming increasingly desperate.

The worst situations involve claimants who say they are now not able to work or send their children to school because of delays.

Bankruptcy

Lesley Kamara, who lives near Southampton, has not yet received her money, despite sending her form back last October.

"It is causing great hardship. I can't go food shopping. We are living on the real basics: bread, milk and eggs," she tells BBC News Online.

I don't think some people in power realise what it is like to have no money at all
Lesley Kamara

Ms Kamara, who has three teenage children, and also cares for her disabled brother, says she is considering filing for bankruptcy, because she has not been able to keep up payments on outstanding debts.

She also says she has accrued more debts because non-payment has meant she has incurred more than £100 in bank charges.

"This is the real world. This is how real people live. I don't think some people in power realise what it is like to have no money at all," she tells BBC News Online.

"I don't think they realise how desperate it is for some people. When you are looking at your bank account and see you have £100 left in the world. There is a difference when you can't afford to buy a can of beans for 15p."

Increasing desperation

Ms Kamara is not alone.

Other women in similar circumstances have been in contact.

Tax credit fiasco
It is diabolical
Contract worker describes life on the helpline

Christine, who has written to BBC News Online, says she can not afford to pay for her petrol to get to work - or send her child to school.

"I have now not had any money for eight weeks. Last week I could not go to work because I had no money for petrol, my child could not attend school because I could not afford his train fare. I had no money for food. "

Janet writes: "These last two months have been a nightmare.

"Now I am owed about £800. My car is being repossessed, I cannot pay my rent or my council tax. We keep running out of electricity, have no gas for heating and this week I had to borrow the bus fares so my daughters could get to school and college to take GCSEs and A levels."

Welfare to work

The irony of these women's stories is harsh.

A fundamental tenet of the government's welfare policy is designed to "make work pay".

I would be better off on benefits
Christine

Many women who were caught in the "benefits trap" have been liberated by the introduction of tax credits.

This is because the old-style Working Families Tax Credit, which ended in April, enabled thousands of women to start working again.

As a consequence, these women feel particularly shortchanged.

As Christine says: "I did what the government wanted me to and instead of living on benefits when my marriage fell apart, I fell for the back to work incentives. What a joke: I would be better off on benefits."

The government has apologised to anyone who is experiencing delays, and says it is working hard to get payment problems resolved.

Your comments:

I have two children and work part time not only have I been given a pittance of an award my husbands tax code has changed and we are down £200 per month. I'm sure the inland revenue wouldn't wait if you owed them money! Does any of the Politicians care that this system is not working. It certainly hasn't helped my family.
C Tait, Scotland

I have been awarded a reduced amount for Children's Tax Credit as my daughter will be 16 in August. On the original claim form and subsequently on three separate visits to my local Tax Office, I have advised them that my daughter has been accepted into the Sixth Form College to continue her education. They will not accept this and say I have to contact them 4 weeks before her 16th birthday. This is such a waste of time, as I already have written confirmation of acceptance into further education. If this is being duplicated many thousands of times over the country, no wonder the system is clogged up with unnecessary bureaucracy. I now have to wait until the end of July to advise them of this change. Even the lady in the Tax Office said it was a complete nonsense.
Mary Earle, UK

I have been getting money in my bank and cheques sent to my home, about £1000 so far since May. I can not get through on the phone so I sent a letter to them. Yesterday I got another cheque and they advised me again how much I will get, over £5500.
S.WRIGHT, England

Our tax credit has been a nightmare from start to a never ending finish. Our tax credit was too high after telling them they said they would sort out, but then payments started going into our bank account which are not ours. We have had to open up a new account we have spoken to 33 advisers when we have got through, they have suspended our tax credit to sort out but we have received more news of more payments which are not ours going into our account, we are lost for words and very stressed. what can we do next?
mrs hinton, uk

I have completed two application forms and received five award notices. In none of the notices have IR taken my salary (£28,000) into account. At the moment I am being paid about £1,000 A MONTH in tax credits I am not entitled to. I have phoned and written and no-one will take any action. How many families would this £1,000 a month help.
sally rode, England

I could cry I really could. I work and I pay huge nursery fees but it was not supposed to be a problem with receiving Child Tax Credit. My tax code changed last month so my salary went down, I still had £100 a week nursery fees. At the end of may IR will owe me £800. I'm a single parent also so with just one wage things are getting desperate.
Kate Davies, UK

You try telling a four year old that we can't go to see family bank holiday weekend as we have no money. What happens when I don't have enough money to buy food? Some thing has got to be done urgently!!!
Kate Davies, UK

Their phone help line is a complete joke - I have tried ringing it from early in the morning to late at night - you just can't get through. Is only one person answering it?
Silvana, Uk

We feel completely helpless and without a voice
Paul Mcmurray, UK

After receiving duplicate application forms I know my child tax credit claim was received by the Revenue on 6th November. I heard nothing until 15th MAY - when my wife and I had a notice to say it was refused as we had no 'qualifying children' despite us having two - aged 11 & 14 ! Two days later we got a duplicate notification. I have tried well over 500 times to get through on the so called helpline - failed miserably - and given up - lodging an appeal in writing with the Inland Revenue instead. I don't know how long that will take to resolve - but at least they have clear targets to meet in dealing with letters. I know others who applied for Tax Credit in March are receiving payments on time - and others who are getting double what they should - it's a fiasco - and whoever is responsible should pay for it with their job - plus pay all us aggrieved tax payers compensation for the agony we have been caused and interest on our lost payments. The increased payments for National! Insurance have been taken out of my wages quick enough - so why can't the government pay me what is due from them ??
Graham Butterworth, England

Just how much time has been wasted by the Inland Revenue insisting on those whose circumstances changed before they applied, submitting their claim base on out of date information, saying that they must wait for their award notice then re-submit their (current) details, but not advising how, so you have to ring the helpline to find out how, because their is no written or downloadable guidance on this. All this does is waste Inland Revenue's time by making them process the application twice, and also help gum up the helpline. Their own procedures are making the system worse!
David, England

I am really surprised about this story. I applied at the end of March and within a few weeks I had my notification and first cheque, within two weeks I had my second cheque. The only thing they (IR) got wrong was that I asked for the tax-credit to go straight into my bank account. The new tax credit scheme is a godsend to me, as I am recently estranged from my husband and because of this, now earn £10K less than before, as well as having to pay more than my mortgage in childcare (for one child). Mistee
Mistee, UK

Tax credits- Why can I not speak to anyone at the Inland Revenue. I have been trying for weeks to get though on the phone. It needs sorting asap.
Sonia Harwood, England

I am also having problems with the tax credits. What is happening is a disgrace and you are right to highlight the flaws in the system. People's lives are being ruined and nobody seems to care. We have been so disgusted that we have involved our local MP and sent a letter of complaint , which after more than a week they have not replied to. We tried to phone a week ago on Saturday. We tried for a solid 12 hours without success. However when we got through eventually we were either told the computers were down or we had pressed the wrong option, sometimes we got through only to be told because we had pressed the wrong option no info could be given out.

I eventually got through on Sunday to someone in Dundee who told me all Simon's [my stepson] records had been wiped off by someone, but apparently this was the case with lots of others .i.e some people with four children suddenly found they had none. We were left wondering if we should have left Simon on benefits and that should not be the case. The whole thing is a complete shambles and not what you would expect from a government agency. We feel completely helpless and without a voice. IT NEEDS SORTED . WHO IS ULTIMATELY RESPONSIBLE AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING TO PUT THINGS RIGHT!?
paul mcmurray, uk

I am a registered childminder and so far I'm £400 down on payments because of this shambles and parents can't afford to pay me until there credits comes though
mel,

I applied for tax credits in January 2003. I had to go to the Tax office on two separate occasions to get payment. I was then informed two weeks ago that my payment is 0.00 and I have no qualifying children so my claim has been terminated. I tried to phone the help line to no avail until this weekend only to be told that they will look into it and I may get a call back in 4 to 5 days time. I have no idea what to do now, we live off my wife's small wage as I'm a full time student and we have a 4 year child.
Ricky Carter, Leeds, UK

Complain to your MP with a completed Parliamentary Ombudsman complaint form (from the web). Make sure you keep detailed logs of the hours you spend trying to get through on the helpline, time at tax office etc. Tell them you want compensation for the time, stress, bank charges etc that you have incurred. They should eventually pay out & your claim will get sorted quicker. I'm getting credits now even though they haven't sorted the paper work out. 64hrs on the phone so far.....
Steve D, UK

It's really heart breaking reading peoples stories. I shouldn't be like this. I guess we are the lucky ones, our award was only one month late and now payments are being made on time. But for others . . .so sad. The banks and councils (tax) are so unsympathetic it is beyond belief.
David Hemsley, UK

Here's a wild comparison. In America, for each child you have, you get an extra tax-free allowance (something like $3,500 per child I think) - you declare how many children on your tax return and the rest is easy. Here you get a tax code that doesn't reflect your children, pay taxes, apply for a rebate subject to qualification (which is different depending on how your total household income is broken down), receive some benefits eventually (more official time required), then find they are taxable and pay tax on them. So in the US everything works quickly and easily. Here each person is processed three or four times instead of the once, and the result is clear to see. Nice one Gordon.
Karl, england

Despite trying all day everyday for the last 7 weeks I have not once managed to speak to anyone about my nil award ,the line is always busy
Hilde Lambert-Gorwyn, England

I am now in debt because of the delay in payments. It worked out fine when being paid through my employer. Since the new change I have not received any payments.
agnes mcewan, scotland

Due to having a baby in December and he didn't start in nursery till 1st April, I was unable to send my claim form in until the end of March, they sent me the form after 2 months as they had "lost" the part of my form that related to my 2 children?? I am STILL waiting to even hear if i have been awarded and if so how much. At the moment we are living on the basics and days out are a thing of the past now---try explaining that to a 3 year old!!
jinni, UK

Before the new tax credits came in force it was easy to claim I had no problem so if we have a method that works why change it to create chaos I am now behind on my rent because of taking a temporary job and not getting tax credits soon enough after I wish I had not bothered taking the job
Keith Griffiths, England

I have worked nearly all my life, i now work part time & have two children and a single parent for the last seven years. In the past family credit was an efficient service, I had filled out my application & sent it back on time, had award sent in feb with payments due 1st may, had another award sent to me on the 23rd of may stating child tax credits due to me but not entitled to working tax credits , had 1 payment in bank for child tax credit .Lucky to get that
Joanne, England

Christine has my sincere sympathy. When my husband died I fell for the benefits line, not realising it would put me in the poverty trap for the rest of my life because I can't work and be better off. Now with the tax credits system, I'm worse off still. It's ludicrous that people with incomes of up to £58,000 should get help when there are so many people way below that just struggling to get by. By the way, when is the Government actually going to come out and state the weekly figure below which people are regarded as living in poverty? The entire mess regarding tax and benefits must be sorted so that people trying to do the best they can for their families are not penalised in this way.
Jenny, Scotland

We had problems with our Tax Credits so we went along to the local tax office in Chippenham. The staff there were excellent.
Malcolm Garnett, UK

As a lone parent on a low income I, like a lot of others, rely on my tax credit to pay my bills and feed my children. In the last four weeks I have been 'assured' that my money would be in the bank by a certain date three times, asked to confirm details that are already correct and told that my NI number doesn't match my details. Under the old WFTC system, my claim was processed in 2 weeks, so why is this new 'more efficient' system taking so long to process claims? I have to pay my rent because my housing benefit can't be worked out because I have not yet received an award notice, as a consequence we have been living on £10 a week for the last 8 weeks. There are many people like myself and the only people that we know of that have received any money are families that under the old system wouldn't have been entitled at all (ironically a lot of these are getting too much and can't get IR to take it back). Given the fact that the IR is so behind surely it would make sense to prioritise those with an income under a certain level, maybe that would take some strain off of the helpline and allow the IR staff to actually process claims.
M Durrant, England

We have received three different award notices one of them had a someone else's details and in all of them say I have no qualifying children. I have four children it has us distressed and struggling with debt in all a total fiasco we shall not vote labour again!!!!!
mike, uk

It is no surprise the system is in chaos. It is pointless to take tax from people and then re-cycle it through Government and pay it back to them.
John Moss, UK

I have had an award notice which states I have no eligible children, presumably my 16 yr old son in full time education (who incidentally has a NI number) does not exist
Russ Payne, England

I would superglue my hand to the tax office desk, but I can't afford to buy any superglue!
M Wernham, England

I recently received a notice from the IR informing me that I will receive just over £200 per month. I have three children and my eldest will be 16 in the next few months. The IR notice stated that I will lose £150 when he turns 16 despite telling the IR that he is beginning in the sixth form this September. £150 seems so much to lose for one child. I will then only receive £50. This is insane. I've tried to contact the IR but the line is permanently engaged. My one consolation is that I am receiving payment from the IR and my heart goes out to all those families who desperately need the money just to survive.
Mandy Bascombe, England

We had problems with our Tax Credits so we went along to the local tax office in Chippenham. The staff there were excellent. They rang up the Tax credit office on their hotline and could not get through so they said they would ring me at home when they got through. Later that day they called and it was all sorted. Many thanks to the tax office staff in Chippenham.
Malcolm Garnett, UK

It is down right disgusting I have four children and have no payment since March 1st, and now my savings have all been used to pay the bills so bang goes our xmas if they don¿t shift there rear ends and do something
Mrs Sharon Lake, NORWICH/NORFOLK

How do you ever get out of the poverty trap? the answer is you don¿t!!
G, UK

Have been trying for weeks to get through to the IR as no award notice has been received, had some monies but some of this has now stopped for some unknown reason. I am now down £200 per month, with 4 kids this represents a big drop in income. A surprise today was a call from the tax office customer services stating they have received a letter from my local MP, they wanted details as to why payments have gone missing (they agree we are due these payments), as if we know?. They will inform my MP as to what the problem is but will not inform us, Told we will have to wait until the problem is resolved (no timescale given) just as soon as possible (weeks or months?). So until then we have to struggle and not pay some bills due (THANKS A LOTS FOR NOTHING)
g Brekke, U.K

We were initially sent a correct award, but had to have it changed as I am now not working and we only have one income, not 2. Got a new award notice informing us we owed them money as we were not entitled to credits as we had no children and a big joint income - took me 3 days to get through to be informed our case had been terminated and had to give all other information again. We are fine for now, but it wont be like this forever, just hope it gets sorted SOON
Jane, England

I've experienced a number of the problems mentioned. The IR guaranteed payments for forms received by 14th March, which we met. My wife and I have received nothing and are now struggling to support ourselves and our 9 month old daughter as we are currently about £360 down each month. People on low incomes don't have savings to fall back on. Apparently it's money with my name on it. Strange. Haven't seen that ad for a while. I would superglue my hand to the tax office desk, but I can't afford to buy any superglue!
M Wernham, England

This has been a total & utter mess. I have not received any payments. I have made numerous calls to the so called Help Line and nothing is ever actioned. I believe everyone should submit a letter of complaint to the Inland Revenue & request compensation for the stress & costs incurred as a result of their incompetence.
Emma Gillies, England

I can totally relate to all the families who have not yet received any tax credits. My husband works hard to support me and our four children but we cannot manage on his wage alone as yet I have not had payment or an award notice which it leaving us desperate and so what may be a nice bank holiday weekend for some will be a living nightmare for us with no money.
kim walls, uk

We sent off our forms for Tax credit via the internet in October. I submitted two forms as the first one had changes on it. I telephoned in October (when it was possible to get through) and they confirmed that there was no problem, they would cancel the form submitted first and use the second. We then received a letter saying the money had been granted in January. In March somebody telephoned to check my details. On 11th May we received two letters saying that I'd submitted twice and would I explain why. My husband's tax coding has changed so we are losing money - we are not desperate yet, but the bank overdraft is increasing.
Ellie, England

Having applied for my tax credit almost 6 months ago I am still awaiting an award notice. I have been promised 6 4-hour call back sonly to receive non. I have faxed the main office...no reply. I have written via recorded delivery; rec'd standard reply whereby I will get a detailed reply in 15 days, that was six weeks ago and have rec'd nothing. Have phoned local tax office three times and they were of no help. Have phoned IR in London and they were also of no help. Glad to see that our taxes are being used to resource help lines and offices in order to provide no useful information. I wonder how many millions of calls the helpline have received and therefore resourced!
Robert Faithfull, England




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SEE ALSO:
Revenue staff in tax-credit walkout
22 May 03  |  Business
Q&A: Tax credit problems
14 May 03  |  Business
Tax blunder apology from minister
28 Apr 03  |  Business


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