Many hundreds of cross border workers in the North West are losing out on tax credits and child benefit.
SDLP MP Mark Durkan says the situation is so bad that his office has been inundated with calls from more than one hundred people in tears over being unable to claim money they are legally entitled to. Others are being referred to his office by local accountants who have given up on trying to sort out the tax credit problems experienced by cross border workers.
Mr Durkan, who raised the issues at Westminster this week, is now calling for a liaison office to be set up in Derry to sort out the mounting problem for the families affected. The issue is affecting families on both sides of the border but is more acute among those living in Donegal and working in Derry.
The SDLP MP says the problem exists due to the fact that every case of cross-border workers is treated as ‘complex’ and goes to the complex cases unit in Washington, in England and not to a local office.
Mr Durkan explains: “These people, be they in Donegal, Derry or other parts of Northern Ireland, have real difficulty getting in touch. When they manage to do so, or when their accountants or their employers’ people get in touch, they are told things such as, ‘Northern Ireland is not in the EU, so what are you talking to us about?’ They are not even being told that Northern Ireland is not in the UK; they are being told that Northern Ireland is not in the EU.
“These people also have to deal with the relevant officials of the Irish Republic, and the relevant department there is centralised in Letterkenny. Rather than all the liaison taking place between officials who are 20 miles apart and who can meet, the cases are dealt with on a completely remote basis, with an office in Letterkenny in the Irish Republic and an office in Washington in England.”
Mr Durkan suggests that a change in working practices is the only solution for cross border workers in the Derry-Donegal area.
“There is a simple answer to that - make sure that if cross-border cases are not processed in Northern Ireland, there should at least be a liaison office or front office in Derry, that people can go to where someone deals with their case and they are not left crying and in distress, which is how many people come to me when they have been referred by accountants who will no longer touch tax credit cases involving cross-border workers. Employers are very distressed for their workers as well, but there is a simple answer.”