Thursday, February 05, 2009

Swinson Exposes Tax Credit Nightmare

Earlier this week, Jo Swinson, Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire secured a debate in Westminster Hall in which she highlighted how many of her constituents have been failed by the Government's tax credit system.

She told how one constituent's income was recorded as £340 rather than £30000 leading to a massive overpayment. They hadn't noticed the error. Believe me, tax credit award notices are not easy documents to understand and an error is easy to miss.

Another was being pursued for an overpayment of £10,000 when the Tax Credit Office paid in £6000 to her bank account, again in error.

Any MP will be able to tell you similar stories. A system that is supposed to help take people out of poverty can often lead to them being forced to repay money paid to them in error. This can cause terrible hardship. If the Tax Credit Office makes a mistake, and the claimant fails to notice, it is the claimant who has to take the hit.

I personally have seen cases where the official error is so obvious and the Tax Credit Office still insists that the resulting overpayment is recoverable and it has taken the independent Adjudicator or the Parliamentary Ombudsman to find against them before they grudgingly accept their mistake. In the meantime, the claimant has gone through so much stress.

Don't believe the Minister's assurances that the Tax Credit Office always allows reasonable time to pay, either. Lower income households are under huge pressure at the best of times but particularly in this harsh economic climate and can ill afford to be paying the price of official incompetence.

Oh, and by the way, happy birthday, Jo.

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