MPs slam HMRC and Concentrix for ‘buck passing’ on tax credit checking

MPs are demanding answers from HMRC head Jon Thompson about its monitoring of the tax credit checking work it passed over to Concentrix, after the work and pensions committee heard evidence regarding incorrect decisions to stop payments and ‘appalling’ failures in customer service at the outsourcing company

The committee said it will write to both HMRC and Concentrix asking for ‘urgent information’ on how the outsourcer’s performance of Concentrix was monitored by HMRC and the levels of staffing and training at Concentrix.

It said there had been ‘repeated buck-passing’ between Concentrix and HMRC as to who was responsible for failure to assess claims correctly when carrying out fraud checks.

In addition, the committee wants details of the steps HMRC will take to compensate claimants, to ensure they are not further disadvantaged, and its plans to review decisions taken by Concentrix. It is seeking an assurance that Concentrix will not be compensated for HMRC taking much of their responsibilities back in-house. The committee also plans to issue a report into the scandal.

The actions follow a committee session which heard evidence from four single parents who had wrongly had their tax credits stopped, along with senior staff from Concentrix, including senior vice president Philip Cassidy, and HMRC staff, including chief executive Jon Thompson.

The select committee was told that appeal success rates stood at 73% according to HMRC or 90%-95% according to Concentrix, commenting that ‘either way a terrible indictment of the original decision-making process.’

Frank Field MP, chair of the work and pensions committee, said: ‘The committee was astonished by the extraordinary evidence we heard. From Concentrix we saw a company desperately out of their depth and unable to deliver on the contract awarded to them by HMRC.

‘From senior HMRC officials we saw a palpable disregard for the human implications of this gross failure of public service. From the tax credit claimants we saw dignity in the face of appalling and traumatic experiences.

‘We have no doubt that many people similarly affected have been unable to come forward. I welcome HMRC’s swift action on the Concentrix contract, but that does not excuse them for ever having allowed this to happen.’

The committee was told that claimants faced humiliation when they were forced to borrow money as they were left without benefits, to which they were ultimately found to be entitled, for up to seven weeks.

During the summer, customer service levels plummeted to ‘appalling’ levels, with MPs hearing some claimants called up to 70 times to get through as just 1% of calls were answered by Concentrix at the height of the crisis. One claimant finally waited 90 minutes to speak to a Concentrix adviser on an 0845 number, at considerable expense.

In addition, processing refunds to claimants whose tax credits had been incorrectly stopped took place over a series of months. In one case, a single mother lost housing benefit because a refund of wrongly withdrawn tax credits took her over an income threshold, while in other instances claimants went into debt while they waited for the money they were owed.

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