I had been self-employed for a year when a friend told me about Working Tax Credits (WTC). If you don’t want to read my story, scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of quick reference information, links and other helpful numbers if you have any similar difficulties with WTC.
Please comment. I would be very interested to hear your experiences with WTC. I would like to hear about people who have stopped receiving benefits they are entitled to because they require too much undivided attention, are too distracting, or because you have made a mistake because of being caught out by their unclear communication. Or, you may want to speak up because you are too wary about applying in the first place.
In 2007, I applied for WTC and now have a pile of correspondence with them for the tax years 07-08 and 08-09 and subsequent letters, which date up the one I received in the last week of January 2013.
At this time, when I mentioned WTC to another friend who, like me, worked a full week and earned under £22,000 a year, suggesting he claimed, he told me that his sister with mental health and learning difficulties had been demanded to repay £3,000. He said I should not trust them as they would find a reason to ask for all their money back. I couldn’t believe this was possible.
In 2008, a recruitment agency sent me to a temporary job, due to last for one month. I called WTC on 17 January and said I wanted to end my claim because I had enough income coming in, and I intended to take subsequent jobs to bolster my self-employed income. I mentioned what had happened to my friend’s sister. The man told me that I was entitled to WTC if I was earning less than £22,000 p.a. I said I knew I was entitled but needed to focus on my work and didn’t want to worry about administrating a system I didn’t understand. He assured me I need not worry. Morale of this tale: take your friends on their word. Do not pass Go. Do not collect a hundred. Do not think.
At the end of January, the company asked if I would stay on for another month because of how well I had performed. During February I was head-hunted for another job to start on 3 March 2008. On 25 February 2008, the company said the work was all done and I went home at lunchtime. For rest of the week I carried on freelance work and went in to start the new job the following Monday.
Pile of papers
I responded to each letter from WTC, hence the pile of papers I have now. I was trying to be careful because of my fear of having to pay out a large sum of money. During my lunch breaks, I called WTC on my mobile, each call to an 0845 number, therefore costing me to listen to menus before I even speak to an agent. Back then, the agent would lead the call, asking questions which I answered. However it was not until May 2008 that I was asked about my work circumstances and told them where I was working. I gave them the dates of the change in employment 25 Feb 12 noon – 3 March 9am. 6.5 days.
On the form I am looking at now, it says ‘days’ but doesn’t bother to tell us if these are ‘working’ or ‘calendar’ days. They are calendar days. Do they deliberately not say this (it doesn’t cost anything to use words) to trip people up? The people who would be aware of these booby traps are going to be those with the time and the leisure to sit down and read all the instructions to say what WTC want to hear to extract money from them.
The system catches out hard working, low earning, self-employed people with families, therefore not able to decode the system, but not someone who wants to sit down and find out how to get some more free money. The system is built on heresay, not evidence. In fact, as you will read, I was TOLD OFF rudely for trying to send them evidence. This was bullying: ‘Only reply if you have more evidence.’ I send my tax return as evidence that I was self employed, which I had told them, not unemployed. They wrote back: ‘We are dismissing this as you did not tell us at the time.’ Yes, actually I did. Here, I am being made impotently responsible for the functioning of the ears of a person I cannot even see.
Even so, my gap of self-employment between jobs was not ‘over 7 days’ as they kept writing to me and insisting. Do they not have calendars in these government departments?
In 2009, I received a letter from WTC saying my tax credits had been stopped and I turned this page over where it said I owed them £1,453.99. They couldn’t even write this on the front of the letter. It didn’t say why this was. Again: communication is missing. After all, it would have cost them 30p to have printed the extra words: ‘because you did not let us know of changes in your employment in the time we needed.’ Bullying: ‘Give me your lunch box?’ Why? ‘Because you didn’t open your locker fast enough for my liking.’
Of course, with that kind of demand for money, I didn’t claim again although I was working 40 hours a week and on a salary of £18,000. Yes I was approaching 40, yes forty years old. Let’s have that salary again? £18,000 p.a. Hours worked a week? 40. Age? 40 (do you see something here?). Therefore, I was entitled to WTC but cancelled my claim as I needed to give all my attention to the job I was in. Dyslexic people tend to focus like hunter gatherers on their target and I cannot always process the style of communication used by WTC so instead I would call them up. Many of these conversations were difficult as the people I spoke to were mechanical in their question firing and didn’t listen. I asked one guy why he acted like a robot and he said ‘because I’m only paid to be one.’
Eventually, I spoke to a Scot called Mike Jackson who told me that the overpayment was due to me changing jobs and not letting them know within a month of starting my new job. He advised me to dispute the overpayment based on the fact that I had a week of self employment between 25 Jan and 3 March. As 25 Jan was a Monday and I finished work at midday, I had not been between employments for more than 7 days. Somehow, I was so bewildered by the situation that I didn’t start putting the maths together for a long while yet.
On calls to WTC, I couldn’t discuss times I had called them if I could not remember the exact date. Another land-mine, particularly for Dyslexic people. Mike Jackson said to do a subject access request in which they would send me the recording of my 17 January call on disk. In fact it took months for the disk of my conversation to arrive and for the next correspondence took place, so I had forgotten the finer points of Mike’s excellent advice.
I then sent in a TC846 form to dispute the overpayment claim. I followed Mike’s advice and mentioned my request to stop receiving WTC, the fact I was told I was still entitled to credits on my salary, the dates of my return to self-employment (I was never unemployed) and the fact I had informed them of my ongoing circumstances. I had forgotten to point out that the gap between jobs was 6.5 days.
This appeal was rejected. Each letter said I could not write back unless I had ‘new evidence’. No letters said why I needed to pay a whole year’s money, when throughout that year I had been:
- working 35-40 hours a week.
- Self employed or employed every week.
- Earning under the threshold.
When I went to the CAB, I was advised to send my tax return in for the year in question to show I was self-employed and not unemployed at any time.
The CAB advised me to do my next tax return early and to send it with another claim for WTC as I was entitled to it. I was astonished to hear this as, having slipped up during a previous claim and being asked for the entire year’s tax credits to be paid back, I was told I could have claimed again straight away and maybe have paid it back that way. I just didn’t trust them to provide me with the information on what they wanted me to do. I was focusing on finding self-employed work and earning an income and, even if I hadn’t, I couldn’t remember back to a letter received a year before. It probably wouldn’t have been in context at the time anyway. Much of the information given by WTC only makes sense in hindsight.
See the bottom of this post for the info, which might make more sense in the light of the my story.
My way of trance-like focusing on the job in hand, being Dyslexic, makes administrative tasks very difficult. This is why I wanted to end my claim when I had a regular income, to focus on my job without fear of distraction. Anything like this occupies my mind, which has detrimental effects on my work performance. try thinking about 2 things at once.
The letter sent back to me dismissed the new evidence of my tax return ‘as I didn’t inform them at the time.’ Actually, I had never at any point said to them I was unemployed, but they had kept using this term. So, even though I had opened my claim for WTC as a self-employed person, this might be because:
- I didn’t know how i should present this information, despite it being on my initial claim form.
- I didn’t know about the existence of the COP26. (who is going to be the most likely to find this? Yes, the relaxed person with no urgency who can take their time to find a way to get some more free money).
- I hadn’t thought to send my tax return until the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
When I made the new claim, I got a call from a very rigid gentleman who asked me how many hours I worked each week and scolded, yes scolded me for sending in my tax return. Now if having a total stranger call up and speak to me like a loser isn’t designed to make me feel inferior for receiving government money, I don’t know what is. Hang on. When I sent my tax return in as ‘new evidence’ before, it was dismissed for not telling them at the time. How could I have ‘told them’ what they wanted to know by sending in my tax return if someone calls up to tell me I shouldn’t have done this? I’m lost now.
The next step was to contact my MP. I explained the situation and Lynne Featherstone’s office wrote 3 times on my behalf.
Deluded in denial.
Never at any point have I received a satisfactory reply telling me why a low-earner who goes between self employed and employed, who works all week should pay back a whole year of WTC. This is a higher rate of penalty than many legal crimes. This is high, even if I had made a real mistake. This is out of proportion when the time period in question that caused the whole problem was not ‘over 7 days’. Not even by the Mayan’s calendar. Whatever you write, they just repeat their same policies or self-deluded claims in classic in-denial style: ‘we pride ourselves on how many people with Dyslexia we help and provide a service so that you can go to someone who will read your form to you and help you fill it in.’ They don’t respond to any of your points. If they did it would be: ‘oh look, 25 Feb is a Monday and so is 3 March. Can’t argue with that. it’s in my calendar. Oh look, you did say you left work at 12pm on 25 February. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…..and a half days. What did I write there? Over 7 days.’ Or they refer to COP26 (the freeloaders’ instruction manual).
It was not said in the first instance that these were even calendar or working days, so it would be reasonable for a working person to assume they were working days. If it was something you were waiting for from them, betcha it would mysteriously become ‘working days’. However, I still had been self-employed for 6.5 calendar days.
After writing on my behalf, Lynne Featherstone’s office called WTC on the M.P. line. They said this took some time as it was hard to get through. (I wonder why? No one else was having problems, surely?) The outcome was that the lady was very sympathetic, apologised but said I still needed to pay this money back.
The next stage, the WTC helpline told me, was to write to the Adjudicator’s Office. I would not have had the address for this if it hadn’t been the case. On 10 November 2011 – plum in the middle of an MA – I spent 8 hours compiling a letter, finding all their correspondence, photocopying it and sent this package by special delivery. In December the Adjudicator’s Office wrote back and said I was not at a stage to be writing to them and they had forwarded my letter to the Complaints department. The complaints people wrote back and said they could see that the Adjudicator’s Office were looking at ‘my response to the decision that the overpayment was fully recoverable.’ What a biased domineering little sentence!
What colour envelope?
I had cancelled a fresh claim – after receiving WTC for 6 weeks – in September 2011. Then in 2012, during the final 20,000 word project of my MA, I had to inform them of my earnings. With my head full of Harvard Referencing – every guide giving differing advice from the next one – I tried to call to find out what info to give them: This year’s earnings or the one from the next tax return which I hadn’t done yet? I might be told they were busy and couldn’t take my call or I might go through 3 or 4 menu systems, one asking me the colour of the envelope they had written to me in (usually envelopes go in bin so what type of filing fanatic do they take us all for?) then after I was asked to have my NI number ready the call disconnected with ‘we are busy call back later’. The lack of apology is a sign of their level of empathy for the public here. Zero.
Then I got a huge phone bill. I found I had paid £11.97 just trying to call HMRC. With calls that cut me off after holding for 6 minutes costing the most part of this. Not only did I go through 3 or 4 sets of menu options trying to put you off, trick you out or deluded claims to answer questions on the website. What? The website that sends you round the houses just to find the phone number?
That is so welcoming. They say ‘please tell us’ and this happens! So nice and sweet and then you hit a brick wall. And pay to do so.
Bullying is characterised by bad communication. I would call bullying an inability to communicate adequately to meet the bully’s needs. What can you say when someone demands: ‘give me your lunch box!’? Being bullied is being not responded to. Or perhaps you are being responded to in a particularly demeaning way, as has been seen when police are trying to get a conviction. The bully is not listening to what you think. They don’t care. They want what they want. Recent reports show how widespread bullying is in the workplace, in care homes, in places where people are paid to provide a service but instead they are getting off on their own whims. People in positions of power are abusing these positions. Role Power Bullying, it is called. It seems to be rife in this country and exacerbated by the fact that the perpetrators will never look at the results of their actions. Also, they are unable to get what they want by reason or communication, so they have to bully for it. Bullying will keep mushrooming in a tight-lipped society that pretends to be great while rotting underneath.
So, after the two letters informing me that my letter was being considered, a year later I get a letter saying ‘We have found you owe £1,458.99 and this probably dates back to before April 2012. No response at all to my letter. Nothing but 2 pieces of proof of passing the buck. For a whole year.
I get a call back from the very helpful Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman who looked into this for me. He said even though – and he was sympathetic – I had not been responded to, I had to write in, they would respond (?) and then the Adjudicator’s Office will take up my complaint. So my letter, which took 8 hours to write and add evidence, had been ignored. The man then told me he would call them on my behalf, I could speak to them, they would write to me and then I could apply to the Adjudicator’s Office.
Then I find these articles about how much is not claimed in WTC. Just one Google Search provides:
As promised, here are some bullet points you might find useful:
The way this benefit is charged is changing this March. If you have had problems, please speak up about it. Please ensure that you get a response which shows they have understood your circumstances.
Here is a quick reference link to the information you must adhere to.
They will ask for your entire annual award back if you don’t tell them about changes.
When they say 7 days THIS MEANS SEVEN CALENDAR DAYS, not working days!
You need to be updating them to any changes within one month, to avoid being demanded to pay all the money back.
Is it any wonder there is so much money unclaimed?
RESPONSIBILITY – means being able to respond (which in my case they didn’t to my last letter) and being able to take a response (over £7.bn in unclaimed credits is SOME BIG RESPONSE)