THE UK Government has been urged to introduce new legislation to ensure the “utter shambles” involving US company Concentrix, which led to benefits being withheld from thousands of people, can never happen again.
The call has come from the SNP’s Mhairi Black, who argues that a new law is needed to protect low and middle income families. She also called on the Tory Government to apologise for setting up the flawed system and the subsequent “agony” it caused to some of the most disadvantaged in society.
Last year, Concentrix, hired by HM Revenue and Customs to help cut fraud and correct errors in the tax credit system, was sacked after many low income and vulnerable people were left without their due credits.
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In a scathing report by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, on which Ms Black sits, MPs said that right from the outset claimants found the system was "stacked against them".
The "merest hint" that a claim contained more than a risk of fraud or error was enough to trigger a compliance check with those who did not or could not reply being treated as guilty until proven innocent.
Out of the 59,000 cases where Concentrix tried to reduce or stop payments, 36,000 were appealed and almost 90 per cent of the complaints were upheld.
HMRC accepted the Committee’s recommendations, which means up to 23,000 new cases, where it is claimed claimants were wrongly stripped of their tax credits, will now be looked at.
While Ms Black welcomed this move, she insisted the Government had to go further to ensure the scandal never happened again.
“While it is welcome that all remaining cases where payments were stopped or frozen altogether will now be investigated, it is appalling that it has taken so long for the UK Government to admit its failings when it comes to Concentrix; especially when so many low income families rely on these payments to get through the month,” said the MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South.
“The practices used by Concentrix are certainly questionable but the real blame lies with this Tory Government, which came up with a model that indiscriminately targeted low income families; a way of working, which placed the burden of their failing austerity agenda firmly on the shoulders of those most disadvantaged in our society.”
Ms Black stressed how Theresa May and her colleagues must show that they had learned their lesson by now legislating to ensure that “this kind of scandal is never repeated”.
She went on: “The Treasury needs to urgently reconsider the ongoing policy of downsizing HMRC as it is clear that these offices and resources are needed to properly notify claimants, provide support for queries and ensure that vulnerable individuals are not stripped of support.”
Ms Black added: “The evidence heard by the Work and Pensions Committee laid bare the real hardship families endured as a result of this utter shambles and the UK Government must apologise fully for the agony it has caused.”