CIOT: Campaigners welcome constructive HMRC response on tax credit interviews
Under a process called the Identity Authentication Service (IDAS), introduced in 2009, any tax credit claimant who calls HMRC’s helpline is required to prove their identity by answering security questions. If they cannot answer them correctly, they are required to make an appointment at an enquiry centre for an interview. LITRG has been strongly critical of HMRC’s decision to implement this new policy without first assessing its impact on disadvantaged groups. Nearly two years on, HMRC have finally published an action plan setting out their proposals to address concerns raised by LITRG and others.
Victoria Todd, LITRG Welfare Rights Technical Officer, said:
“We welcome HMRC’s constructive response to their recent, if belated, consultation on whether IDAS puts certain protected groups under the Equality Act 2010, such as disabled people and non-UK nationals or various ethnic groups, at a disadvantage.
“We and other members of HMRC’s Benefits and Credits Consultation Group found evidence that these procedures were indeed putting certain claimants at a distinct disadvantage, especially those with mobility problems or who found it difficult to transact business by phone. We were extremely disturbed that HMRC had put IDAS procedures in place without carrying out an equality impact assessment (EQIA), and that they were not prepared to suspend the practice while they carried out such an assessment when eventually persuaded that one was indeed required by law.”
As a result of the consultation, HMRC have said they will ensure consideration of EQIA is built into the Benefits and Credits change team processes for each new piece of work. There will be a dedicated trained EQIA assessor to manage the process and where a decision is taken that a full EQIA is not necessary (as it was with IDAS) it will now be referred to a panel of trained EQIA assessors.
HMRC also announced some specific measures to address concerns raised in the consultation including a pilot which will allow people to obtain claim forms without having to attend an interview, an undertaking to commission work to better understand the needs of disabled customers and the introduction of friends and family language translation.
Victoria Todd added:
“These measures are welcome. However, many of the points listed by HMRC in their response simply state provisions and processes that already exist such as specialist services in place for those with hearing/speech impairments and transactions in writing as an alternative to phone. In practice claimants are often not aware that these provisions exist or they find the service is inadequate – for example, lengthy delays in receiving a reply to written correspondence. A great deal of work is still needed to ensure that vulnerable customers are able to access the services they need either themselves or via an intermediary if that is their preferred method.
“We look forward to working with HMRC to develop the actions outlined in their response and to help them meet future challenges presented by the need to comply with their public equality duties.”
Notes to editors
1. LITRG’s response to the consultation can be read at http://www.litrg.org.uk/submissions/2011/idas-eqia
2. The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) is an initiative of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) to give a voice to the unrepresented. Since 1998 LITRG has been working to improve the policy and processes of the tax, tax credits and associated welfare systems for the benefit of those on low incomes.
3. The CIOT is a charity and the leading professional body in the United Kingdom concerned solely with taxation. The CIOT’s primary purpose is to promote education and study of the administration and practice of taxation. One of the key aims is to achieve a better, more efficient, tax system for all affected by it – taxpayers, advisers and the authorities. The CIOT’s 15,400 members have the practising title of ‘Chartered Tax Adviser’ and the designatory letters ‘CTA’.
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