There are fears that up to 600 local jobs could be at risk after Concentrix was axed amid claims people have been wrongly deprived of their entitlement.
On Tuesday HMRC confirmed that it has decided not to extend its existing contract with the US company it employs to check tax credit entitlement.
“Both organisations will now be focused on clearing the outstanding cases. HMRC is redeploying 150 staff to help with this work,” a spokesman for HMRC said.
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One charity in Belfast said it had been inundated with requests for help by distraught tax credit claimants who said their payments had been stopped while they attempted to prove their circumstances had not changed recently.
Following the HMRC statement, Concentrix defended its performance saying the company had “operated professionally at all times and within the guidance set by HMRC”.
A spokesman said: “The HMRC statement not to renew the contract attacks our professional credibility, and the commitment of our staff who have performed determinedly, despite the issues with HMRC policies and procedures.
“In addition, throughout the contract, Concentrix has employed good hard-working people within the UK, at Concentrix expense, in order to staff phone lines and handle customer calls which were agreed by HMRC and were based on HMRC assumptions.”
Commenting on the Belfast workforce, the Concentrix spokesman said the HMRC announcement was a “significant shock,” and added: “However, our people are our top priority and we are doing everything possible to minimise any impact. We are engaged with HMRC to fully understand the implications of this announcement and in the meantime we are exploring all options for our staff within Concentrix.”
The complaints from claimants in Northern Ireland follow a large number of similar reports in Great Britain.
Earlier this week, the financial secretary to the UK Treasury, Jane Ellison, told MPs there would be no inquiry into how the contract – valued at between £55 million and £75 million – has been handled.
Saying there was no need “to go into inquiries etc etc,” Ms Ellison told the Commons: “We have a contract, it is monitored on a regular basis, it is not going to be renewed when it comes to an end in May next year”.
Mens Aid in Belfast has been helping dozens of tax credit claimants suffering hardship as a result of the Concentrix/HMRC fraud detection operation.
Peter Morris of the charity said he has been lobbying political representatives without success in recent weeks, and that the general situation has not improved despite the publicity surrounding the termination of Concentrix’s contract.
“We have been flagging this up [to political representatives] for the last four weeks and only now are people jumping on it,” he said.
“We’ve been working to get cases resolved as quick as possible but the politicians have failed. They can’t say they weren’t told because they were.
“The only party to put a statement out about his was the PUP in north Belfast, and there has been a joint venture between the PUP in north Belfast and Mens Aid over the last few weeks.
“We’ve been helping women as well as men, from both sides of the community, and we have had people coming into the office on the Shankill Road from places like Turf Lodge and the lower Cliftonville Road.”
Mr Morris added: “As a charity we do have concerns at potential of job losses around this as we believe Concentrix were adhering to requirements issued by HMRC.”
• Two typical case studies of people helped by Mens Aid:
1. Single father discovered his tax credits had not been paid into bank. HMRC advised him to call Concentrix. Concentrix claimed he didn’t respond to letter (which the man claims he did not receive) and accused him of having an undeclared partner living with him. It transpired this was a previous tenant at his address.
2. Single mother working part-time had her tax credits suspended after claims she also wasn’t living alone. She followed same process as above and discovered the name of the person she was supposedly living with. The man named was actually her landlord and not a co-habitant. Her tax credits will not be reinstated until she provides bank statements, bill receipts and her tenancy agreement.