"When will some justice be injected into the Revenue tax credit reclaim system" ? That was the query posed at Treasury Questions today by North Thanet`s MP Roger Gale.
Following a question asking what proportion of appeals against repayment of tax credits have been refused since April 2006 ( Answer: 303,000 appeals, only 8,000 upheld) the MP asked the Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo):
"The Revenue and customs relies for its determinations upon Code of Practice 26.
When Members refer these cases to the "Independent" Adjudicator (Dame Barbara Mills) they are told that the Revenue is in order because it has applied COP 26.
When Members refer the case to the Ombudsman (Ann Abraham) they are told that the Adjudicator and the Revenue are right because they have relied upon COP 26.
Code of Practice 26 is a self-imposed regulation used by the Treasury to say that "We were wrong but you should have known that we were wrong so we are right and you are wrong"!
When will there be some justice injected into this system?"
Answering, the Paymaster General said that COP 26 was based on "reasonableness" and that in most cases it was "reasonable for the claimant to have known" that the Revenue and Customs had made a mistake.
After the exchange Roger Gale said:
"This is the world of Dawn in Wonderland! We are asked to, accept that because the Revenue and Customs are apparently, in at least 303,000 cases a year, incapable of correctly inserting and calculating information claimants are required to check the fine print on every statement and then, if they have any doubts about the figure that they have been paid, presumably spend ages on the phone trying to get through to civil servants who do not have the answers and are just as likely to give further misleading as accurate information.
The bottom line on this is that the treasury has sought a form of weasel words to get themselves off the hook that the Prime minister impaled them on when he gave an undertaking that if overpayments were the fault of the Revenue and Customs then repayment would not be demanded.
"The Treasury is now trying to define "fault" in its own image " says Roger Gale. "It seems that something is "reasonable" if it is in the treasury's favour and "unreasonable " if it is not.
It is time that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (The hideaway Prime Minister) stopped sheltering behind the Paymaster's apron strings and came to the despatch box to answer questions about Tax credits himself".