Tax Credits: Why bother?
“I just don’t believe it took the full application process and seven phone calls before they suddenly realised I was earning a couple of hundred pounds over the amount we could claim the child care element of Working Tax Credit for. What a waste of time and effort!”
This was a conversation I was having with a perturbed mother this week. She and her partner had one child. She was working part time self employed and he worked as a casual employee at a large company. Their join income was around £16,000. They wanted to place their two-year old into nursery for one morning a week. They had just moved house and the nursery place would give them a much-needed break during this stressful period.
The only benefit they claimed was child benefit, and they worked as hard as they could paying the mortgage on their first property.
“I can’t afford to put her into nursery on the money I am earning. It’s too expensive. Effectively what the people on the phone were telling me is that I should work less hours.”
This is a statement echoed to me in a visit to the job centre once. After my maternity allowance ran out I enquired as to any advice they could offer me to get back into work on their New Deal for Lone Parent Scheme. Two advisors looked at each other, then looked at me before one of them incredulously told me that I didn’t have to go back to work until the child was in school.
I don’t have much regard for the Tax Credit system. Having looked into it, the system works only if you circumstances NEVER CHANGE. Only if the hours you work are the same every week and NEVER CHANGE. At the same meeting in the job centre I also enquired into how the child care element would work when I went back to work. The man at the desk looked like he wanted to cry, but then this was the same job centre that told me there was no such benefit as Maternity Allowance – the money paid to all pregnant women who are not entitled to Standard Maternity Pay from their employers.
“The stress and anger caused by the seven phone calls to the tax credit people nearly cost us our relationship.” The angry mother continued her rant. “I could have murdered him when he forgot to tell them the one thing I asked him to ring up about. Then the Tax Credit people keep phoning me up all the time asking for details they have been given a million times.
“They keep over paying me as well and I have asked them to sort it out time after time but they can’t or won’t. This is ridiculous. At some point I’m going to have to pay back so much money that isn’t mine. It’s ok telling us just not to spend it but it just gets absorbed into the bills and everyday expenses. Sometimes I wish I never bothered to claim.”
I assured her not to worry. Had they split up she could have claimed Income Support, gone on the housing register and not had to worry about going back to work until her daughter was in school. It doesn’t pay for people to go back to work and that seems to be the ethos from the job centre as well.