This article titled “Treasury refuses to hold inquiry into Concentrix tax credits contract” was written by Rowena Mason Deputy political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 14th September 2016 15.58 UTC
The Treasury is refusing to hold an inquiry into the failings of the outsourcing firm Concentrix, despite complaints from both Tory and Labour MPs about the number of people wrongly deprived of tax credits.
Jane Ellison, the financial secretary to the Treasury, confirmed that HM Revenue and Customs had decided not to renew Concentrix’s contract because some of its work had been unacceptable in recent weeks.
In a Commons debate, she was confronted by MPs with dozens of examples of cases in which people had been treated wrongly.
MPs from all parties shared stories of constituents who had been forced into debt and their children refused free school dinners after having their tax credits wrongly stopped.
The Conservative former minister Sir Desmond Swayne said: “I’ve got cases of women who have had their tax credits stopped because they’ve been told that they’re living with a man of whom they have never heard, or indeed the tenant of the property prior to them having occupied it.”
Ellison, however, dismissed the calls for an official investigation into the contract with Concentrix, saying there was no need “to go into inquiries etc etc”.
“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,” she said.
“And the focus I think for all of us, and particularly for me and for HMRC, in the coming days and weeks, is in making sure we get outstanding cases resolved, particularly the most vulnerable, and that we make sure that people have the money to which they are correctly entitled.”
She also argued it was still appropriate for Concentrix to carry on some of its work in conjunction with HMRC until its contract expires.
Rebecca Long-Bailey, a Labour shadow Treasury minister, called for more immediate action.
“Many honourable members across the House have been contacted… by distressed and anxious constituents, often hard-working individuals, who have had their tax credits cut unfairly, pushing them, in many cases, into extreme hardship.
“Now whilst we welcome that HMRC has finally taken action in announcing that the Concentrix contract will not be renewed, it is most regrettable that the government has only done this when events have been dramatically exposed by the media.”
She said that the fact that Concentrix would have its contract for another eight months meant there was a risk that service failures would continue.
Louise Haigh, a Labour MP who was one of the first to raise issues with Concentrix, asked for the contract to be brought back in-house when it expires.
Among the Conservative MPs to raise concerns were Craig Mackinlay, Kevin Foster, Robert Jenrick, Stephen McPartland, and Robert Jenrick.
“All members of the House would have received a deluge recently of very harrowing cases of people who have had cause to have interaction with Concentrix,” Mackinlay said.
“First of all they were unsure if this company even existed, if it was a scam. Trying to get through on the telephone is next to impossible. This is a service level that is unacceptable in the public sector.”
On Tuesday night, a Concentrix spokesperson said in a statement: “We have operated professionally at all times and within the guidance set by HMRC. 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.
“To be clear, we have answered significantly more calls than planned with HMRC. Throughout the contract we have not been incentivised to make wrong decisions for claimants and, in fact, would be penalised heavily for failure to adhere to HMRC policies and procedures.
“Through the term of the contract we are pleased to have saved the taxpayer nearly £300m in authentic confirmed tax fraud and error which otherwise would have cost the taxpayer money.”
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