Couples and Common Issues with Tax Credits and Child Benefit

ESA Seminar

Thank you to all those who attended our seminars on 22nd June and 1st of July, 2016, which explored a number of issues that trouble advisers and their clients with regard to tax credits and child benefit entitlement, with specific focus on the particular rules and practices around moving in and out of couples, or being wrongly thought to be in a couple.

This half a day seminar examined:

  • The procedures used by HMRC when making “living together” decisions in respect of tax credit awards made by single people. Often based on no more than an Experian or Equifax credit report indicating that the claimant is linked to another person, we will review the procedures and discuss the caselaw emerging from the Upper Tribunal about how such cases should be dealt with.

    We will also consider the potential for a legal challenge to HMRCs practice in this area: looking at what the arguments might be and what could be achieved.

  • Another common problem with HMRC is when couples separate and new claims for child benefit and tax credits submitted by the parent with whom the children live take a long time to be awarded.

    Where the delay is in respect of child benefit that can have knock on effects for entitlement to income support as a lone parent. Things can be particularly difficult where the parent with whom the children live has been a victim of domestic violence and HMRC insist upon asking the violent ex-partner whether the children remain with them before awarding the child benefit. We will examine the process here and the remedies which can be used to resolve such problems.

  • Because tax credit awards should end when a claimant moves from being a single person to being in a couple (or vice versa) there are often cases where a claimant is overpaid when tax credits are not stopped at the correct point.

    In these cases, had tax credits stopped at the correct time and a new claim been submitted, often the same amount of tax credits that were overpaid would have been due. HMRC will sometimes agree to not recover these “technical” overpayments following their guidance on “offsetting”. We will discuss the detailed guidance on when HMRC agree to offsetting and when they do not and consider whether their policy could be subject to legal challenge.

Sarah Clarke, Solicitor at the Public Law Project

Sarah is a project solicitor at the Public Law Project, an independent, national legal charity which aims to improve access to public law remedies for those whose access is restricted by poverty, discrimination or other similar barriers. She was previously the solicitor at CPAG for many years, undertaking test case work in social security.

Tom Royston, Barrister with Garden Court Chambers

As a barrister with Garden Court Chambers, Tom appears regularly in the High Court and Upper Tribunal (Administrative Appeals Chamber). Before coming to the Bar, Tom worked in a Citizens Advice Bureaux and Law Centre, where he specialised in employment, discrimination and social security law. 

As an activist, Tom was the Sheila McKechnie Foundation UK Consumer Campaigner of the Year 2009, in recognition of the campaign he led about the cost of contacting government to claim benefits. The campaign led to a policy change affecting 35 million phone calls per year and also won his bureau the national award of Campaigning CAB of the Year. 

Tom also established the Yorkshire Tribunal Advocacy Project, which provides pro bono representation in social security tribunals, and he has worked with CPAG on the Rutherford bedroom tax and Winder Council Tax Reduction cases amongst others also works on public law, discrimination and housing. 

Ros White, Advice and Rights Manager, CPAG

Ros joined CPAG as the Advice and Rights Manager in January this year, having previously worked for six years as an editor for the rightsnet website. Ros has many years experience as a welfare rights worker, including representing claimants at the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal as part of Lasa's appeals team and writing and training on social security issues.

Martin Williams, Welfare Rights Worker, CPAG

Martin Williams is a welfare rights worker at Child Poverty Action Group. He is widely experienced in representing claimants at both levels within the tribunal system, having worked in the appeals team at Lasa from 2001 until 2008. 

Martin has also worked as a local authority welfare rights officer and in an independent advice centre. He is currently an author of CPAG’s Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook and Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction Legislation handbook.