Reply To: Delays, what delays?


Families pay out in credits chaos
Sean Poulter, Daily Mail
17 April 2003

DESPERATE families caught in the chaos of the Government’s new tax credit system are having their cash problems made worse by the official helpline.

Daytime calls to the Inland Revenue line cost 3p a minute. With many mothers having to make 20 or 30 calls, often holding on for up to half an hour, bills rapidly mount.

One woman has spent more than 84 hours on the helpline since the turn of the year, running up a bill of more than £150 as she tries to sort out her child tax credit payments. Others have seen phone bills inflated by £30, £40 or £50.

Many families say the helpline has been useless in any case, claiming they have been ‘fobbed off’ or simply lied to. Thousands of calls are also going astray. Homes and businesses with similar numbers across the country have been inundated.

Cash from the calls goes to BT, which also collects a subsidy on some calls from the Inland Revenue. Tory spokesman David Willetts said: ‘Many of the people affected are trying to manage on very low incomes.

‘The incompetence of the government and Inland Revenue is potentially costing £100 a week and they can ill afford a higher phone bill as well.’

The call centres handling the system were also in a state of chao. One Revenue worker told the Daily Mail: ‘The calls are coming through at such a rate of knots. It’s bedlam. One of the helpline staff walked out because they just couldn’t take it anymore. People are swearing and asking where their money is and you feel sorry for them because they really need that money. It is really stressful and awful.’

The Inland Revenue has brought in 700 extra staff to help the 2,000 manning the phones, but many callers still find the helpline permanently engaged.

Treasury officials have been in crisis talks with the Revenue over the introduction of the the Working Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit regime.

Some 5.75m families are eligible for the tax credits, but, so far, just 2.4m applications have been processed. Thousands of families are already short of the money they need to pay mortgagages and crucial bills.

Some have been refused free prescriptions and eye tests because they do not have letters confirming they are receiving the tax credits. Contingency plans have been drawn up to issue giro cheques at local tax offices to families in desperate need. But the offices will be closed for four days over Easter.

Welfare groups condemned the decision to hurry in the new system, complaining that application forms were too complex.

The Family Welfare Association said the Government had not allowed enough time for families to apply. Many had been baffled by the complex 12-page application forms. Director Helen Dent said: ‘Families can’t live without money to buy food. Those on low incomes will not have enough money to pay their bills. Eventually the money will come through, but now they are begging and borrowing from relatives. The National Council for One Parent Families called on the Government to bring in emergency measures to help the poorest families.

Helpline staff have told callers that computer problems are at least partially to blame. The system was set up by U.S. technology giant EDS, which has been implicated in a series of UK government computer foul-ups.

The Working Tax Credit, the second part of Gordon Brown’s reform package, is also heading for delays. The credit is intended to provide cash support, typically worth around £25 a week, to around a million single people and couples without children in low-paid jobs.

But Paymaster General Dawn Primarolo said in a Commons written answer that thousands of employers are only now being given the coding information they need to calculate how much to put into wage packets. The old Working Families Tax Credit was abolished at the end of March but the communications failure is delaying payments under the new system.