May 16, 2005 11:40 AM

Tom Brake MP has joined forces with Carshalton and Wallington Citizens Advice Bureau to challenge the government about the rules that surround the repayment of overpaid tax credits. Constituents have attended Tom Brake's MP surgery seeking assistance and the CAB have dealt with thousands of cases resulting from mistakes by the Revenue. Earlier this month, the CAB published a free guide to help families challenge rulings made against them.

Local resident Jenny Warwick is one of many who have been affected by the system. Jenny said, "When I alerted the Tax Credit Office to the significant mistakes they had made about my family's personal circumstances and finances, they told me that lots of awards have these 'typos' and to ignore them. Now they say they have overpaid us and want the money back. They say we had no right to assume our award was correct, but what do we have to go on but their calculations and say so? Since the overpayment, we have been cut off with nothing, without any notification and we feel we have been labeled as dishonest thieves."

Tom Brake added,

"One would expect to pay back an overpayment if the fault lies with the individual. But my constituents are being given liability for overpayments that have occurred because of mistakes made by the Inland Revenue Tax Credit Offices. The Tax Credit Office says my constituents should have known that the money they were given was incorrect. Yet most people would trust the Inland Revenue to calculate their money correctly and would not necessarily have the financial expertise to double-check the Inland Revenue's calculations."

Pauline Collis, Manager at Carshalton and Wallington CAB, commenting on their impact said, "One of our main concerns is that there is no right of appeal against an overpayment. Also, in one case the Inland Revenue say they know about a third child in the family but the computer system will not allow them to add on this child to their records, we have been told this is not an isolated incident."

Pauline Collis cites the lack of information on the award notice which makes it difficult for a client to know how an overpayment has occurred.

Tom Brake has recently raised his concerns with Dawn Primarolo, Pay Master General. The Minister's response stated that when assessing whether individuals are liable to repay an overpayment, the Inland Revenue (IR) will take into account "delays in processing the claims or changes of circumstance. Or whether, despite contacting them several times, the IR failed to take the appropriate action, for example failing to amend their records to reflect a change of circumstances that had been reported. Or if the claimant queried their payments with the IR or another government department and were wrongly told they were correct. In these circumstances the IR will conclude that it was reasonable for the claimant to think their award was right."

Tom Brake disagrees, "I do not see this happening for my constituents. I am contacted time and time again by people who have provided the IR with details of changes to their circumstances, who have informed the helpline of incorrect information in their award notices who are still having to pay back an overpayment that was not their fault. This is not a fair system."

Tom Brake will continue to work on behalf of his constituents to challenge ministers about the Tax Credit system. If you are experiencing problems with Tax Credits, please contact Tom's constituency office on 020 8255 8155.

The guide, which is available from local CAB bureaux and is published on the charity's website, explains how to appeal against a decision, when you may be entitled to hardship payments and how to go about getting overpayments written off altogether. Visit the Citizens Advice website at www. advice guide. org. uk or contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau - look under C in the Yellow Pages

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