Two young mums have spoken of the ‘nightmare’ of losing vital income as a result of a scattergun tax fraud probe outsourced to United States business services firm, Concentrix by the tax office (HMRC).
Kiera McCarron from Shantallow, a mother of one, said she lost £60 a week for over two months after Concentrix contacted her asking for documentation and paper work as part of its fraud audit.
“I went down to the bank, the Post Office, one day and there was nothing in it. Then I went to the SDLP offices and they rang them up.
“They told me to send a full year’s bank statement, so I sent that and I sent a covering letter as well for the things I couldn’t send.
“Every time he was ringing 28 minutes, 30 minutes to get through to them, or it was engaged, as simple as that .
“I’ve missed £64 each Thursday. My ‘brew’ alone doesn’t do two people...if it wasn’t for family...when you have a wain you have to get stuff.”
Kiera’s credits have now been restored and she’s due a back payment close to £600 but she said it’s nine weeks too late.
Her sister-in-law Hollie Robb, a mother of two, is still down over £100 a week.
Hollie said: “I was working beforehand and I had literally just signed on and went from working tax credits to child tax credits. Paid one week, the next day, that was it, I wasn’t paid it.
“I was like, well, maybe the system’s updating,., two weeks later...it was £109 I was missing out on every Thursday.”
SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney said families were being put under “extreme financial pressure” and called on the Concentrix to drastically improve its service levels.
He said: “SDLP offices across the city and across the North have been inundated with pleas from the public to help resolve Concentrix investigations into their tax credit claims. The vast majority of these cases involve single mothers and the suspension of child tax credit payments.
“Concentrix’s role is to determine whether tax credit claims are valid. They cross reference the address of single claimants against a database of financial information. If it appears that anyone else is living at the address, an investigation is triggered.
“We’ve witnessed investigations into single mothers that live in family homes as they await housing by the Housing Executive and we’ve witnessed investigations because of previous tenants at addresses. Some of the reasons are farcical but the investigations still continue.”
Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Welfare rights, Councillor Sandra Duffy said: “Sinn Féin and Community advice centres have received numerous calls from individuals in danger of having benefits such as tax credits stopped until updated status information is received.
“The problem arises through the information requests being issued through a company called Concentrix demanding personal information including bank details and referencing a contact number.
“But when attempting to contact the company people are met with an automated service so clogged that they can’t get through – one women claims to have spent £40 pounds on calls and still couldn’t get through.
People Before Profit MLA, Eamonn McCann, said: “Many of the people who have contacted me are working but losing their tax credits mean they cannot afford even to get to work!
“In the end, it will cost the taxpayer more than if the credits had never been cut because HMRC will have to do a lot of extra work and may have to pay compensation to those who were unfairly cut.”
“This is not a devolved issue, we need to put pressure on Westminster and that means getting together with people across the water who are also doing that.”
The Journal contacted HMRC for comment on the tax fraud investigations.
HMRC said it was a matter for Concentrix.
A Concentrix spokesperson said: “In the last week we have experienced larger than usual demand on our tax credit helpline.
“As a result of this, we have put in place all available staff to ensure that enquires are handled as quickly as possible.”