Tax credit claimants and their advisers are consistently told that telephone calls to the tax credits helpline are recorded. However, according to the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG), since 4 October 2006 letters from another part of HMRC (the Data Protection Unit) have indicated that not all telephone calls to the helpline are recorded.
The LITRG believes that it is vital for claimants that all calls to the helpline should be recorded, and that the recordings are accessible. The reason is that if something is disputed at a later date, typically an overpayment that may have been caused by HMRC error, the claimant is in a far better position if they can show that they contacted the Tax Credit Office to let them know that something was wrong with their payments, or with their award notice.
In view of the uncertainty over whether all such calls have been recorded, the LITRG calls upon HMRC to give claimants the benefit of the doubt in any dispute which turns on the making of a call to the helpline.
Robin Williamson, LITRG Technical Director, explains: “When claimants use the helpline to report changes of circumstances or income, it may sometimes be necessary to trace the recording of the call in order to back up what the claimant says. Furthermore, when a claimant has been overpaid because they followed wrong advice given by the helpline, HMRC say they will generally check the call recording to find out exactly what was said.”
Recently LITRG has been consulted by claimants who have telephoned the helpline to tell them of a mistake in their award notice, or have been overpaid because they followed wrong advice given by the helpline, but have been told that there is no record of their calls.
Sometimes they can produce independent evidence that they did call, in the form of BT statements or by means of a telephone number search. But sometimes they cannot; for example, many people on very low incomes use pay-as-you-go mobile phones from which it is impossible to trace calls, or they call the helpline from work.
Many of these calls took place in the early days of tax credits when pressure on the helpline was intense and other parts of HMRC were recruited to help out. Nevertheless the consistent HMRC mantra that all calls were recorded was a comfort in the event of a dispute.
Now that the Data Protection Unit of HMRC is saying that not all calls to the helpline are recorded, it is hard to see how the Tax Credit Office of HMRC can continue to maintain the contrary.
LITRG is now calling upon HMRC to:
- state precisely which calls to the helpline have been recorded, and which have not for all periods of its existence;
- reconsider all cases where the claimant has maintained that they called the helpline, and HMRC have said there is no record of such a call; and
- in future, give the benefit of the doubt to claimants who say that they have called the helpline, until such time as all calls to the helpline are indeed recorded and household notes are routinely completed following each call.
Robin Williamson adds: ”It is very important for claimants to keep a careful note of all calls to the helpline, the date and time, what was said by whom, and the name of the operator taking the call. That could make all the difference in the event of a dispute.”
Editor, TaxationWeb News