Solving problems by going to the top and using email
I’ll start with a cautionary note, this method is often an effective way of getting quick results BUT it has to be a simple problem with a commonsense fix. More complex problems can’t be sorted out like this, you’ll have to use more orthodox methods.
Sarah had made a simple clerical error on a HMRC form, all parties acknowledged the error and Sarah had notified HMRC about the error in good time. But despite this Sarah had started to get a series of threatening letters demanding money. HMRC said that while Sarah had notified HMRC of the error in good time she hadn’t officially requested for an amendment to be made and that window had now closed so nothing could be done. They told Sarah she would simply have to pay the cash. Sarah was pregnant and desperate.
This is about tax credits, but is could be any simple matter with HMRC.
Here’s how the story (and the solution) played out in emails, Sarah is in blue, Tax Hell is in grey.
I’ll give you a very quick overview…
In June 2016 I completed my tax credits review for 2014-2015 and mistakenly stated our joint income (approx £26k between us) two times in the boxes provided (the wording confused me), and HMRC added both figures and assumed that we earned £52 instead of £26k.
In October 2016, HMRC wrote to me saying I owed them £4800, the amount I’d been claiming for child tax credit childcare element, as it had been overpaid, due to my £50k+ income.
I immediately called them and the call handler said she could see my error, where I’d written the figure twice, and that she would put a note on my file to correct it. She did not tell me to take any other action. I assumed
Last week, HMRC wrote to me to tell me that I had until July to pay the total.
I was shocked because the call handler implied that the issue was sorted out back in October last year.
When I phoned HMRC the call handler told me I should have asked for a ‘mandatory review’, which must be done within 30 days of the error arising. I was not told this when I called in October 2016, so I had no idea about it.
I am now in the position of having to start repayments that I can’t afford while starting what the call handler described as a ‘long and uncertain appeal process’ which may be denied based on the fact I did not ask for a mandatory review.
Please advise me with regard to appealing this. I feel so angry, stressed out and helpless.
This process is largely automated and the people you speak to on the phone don’t know very much about tax law. What details do you have about this phone call? Did you make a note of it and who you spoke with? Is it in dispute in any way? Are you sure a note was attached to your file?
I will be requesting a retrieval of the phone call from the appropriate office. Note on my file from the call says only that I called about the mistake. No other details.
Here’s what I suggest you do in the first instance:
They are similar cases to yours and might give you some ideas.
Then write to Ruth: email@example.com
And say what you originally emailed to me, but in the par that starts “I immediately called them..” make it clear that there is no dispute about the call being placed and it was logged on the file.
At the end of the letter make it clear that HMRC are fully aware that it’s simple clerical mistake and there is no dispute about your income.
Send it mid-morning tomorrow.
What complicates this – slightly – is that Ruth resigned last month – a great shame – but there is still a good chance she’ll be at her desk.
Anyway, let me know what happens, we’ll give her a week to respond.
I didn’t know it was possible to email a real human being at HMRC!
I have to send the email on Wednesday morning, as I won’t be able to access my computer tomorrow.
I will amend the email as you suggest and send it mid-morning on Wednesday.
Really appreciate your advice here. I’m pregnant and this is super stressful.
Thanks so much. May I email you in a week to let you know whether this helped or not?
Yes, please do keep me in the loop. If this is unsuccessful we’ll take another route. Hopefully we’ll catch Ruth before she leaves. Do please include any reference numbers from correspondence and the names of any people you’ve been dealing with.
What subject name would you give this email to increase the likelihood that she opens it?
Something along the lines of ‘customer service help needed in simple working tax credit error’.
Ruth is head of customer services rather than complaints, so it’s important that this is framed as a customer issue that can be easily ironed out with a bit of common sense and a phone call to the right person.
That’s what we are going for here.
I sent the email yesterday to Ruth Owen’s email address. This morning, I got a phone call from one of her colleagues, called Laura Mizen, who said that anything which is sent in to Ruth gets treated as a complaint and passed on to her team. Laura looked into the error and has rectified the mistake and will write to me to confirm.
This is a huge relief for me. I am so grateful for your time and attention in dealing with this.
You are welcome. You did it all yourself. I’m going to blog this as a case study. I’ll change your name and some details, but it’s a good example for other people to follow. If there’s anything you feel uncomfortable with let me know.
No worries! Go ahead. I got confirmation in writing as well so all sorted.
Some names and details have been changed.