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Tax Credits

Volume 406: debated on Thursday 12 June 2003

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11.

If he will make a statement on the administration of tax credits. [118670]

I can confirm that tax credits are now being paid to 3.8 million families, in addition to the 1.3 million families with children on income support and income-based jobseeker's allowance who are receiving the increased levels of support now through their benefits. The Inland Revenue is deciding more than 100,000 cases a week on average. All the claims that are yet to be decided are incomplete or require further checks to verify information, or involve applications that have arrived at the Department in the past few weeks.

Will the Paymaster General ensure that those of my constituents who have incurred bank overdraft charges and mortgage interest penalties purely as a result of the non-arrival of tax credits on the dates when the Treasury was due to pay them are compensated? Given that she has made allegations that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said on the Floor of the House that he would scrap tax credits, will she give me the Hansard reference? She will no doubt be aware that, although the Opposition have considerable criticisms of the complexity and implementation of tax credits, we have at no point said that we would scrap them.

Clearly, it is difficult to comment on the specific cases that the hon. Gentleman raised with regard to compensation without all the details—something that we would not do on the Floor of the House. Each case will turn on its own facts, but the most important thing is to ensure, as he is encouraging me to, that families get the service to which they are entitled. Where the Inland Revenue was unable to deliver the level of service that might have been expected, I will certainly consider what action, if any, may be appropriate. With regard to the second question, I regret that I did not hear—

My right hon. Friend will be aware that many of my constituents work on the tax credits helpline. Will she take this opportunity to thank them for the very hard work that they have put in to deliver this very important new tax credit? Will she also acknowledge that many of those staff throughout the country need continuing support? They need support from their management and appropriate training, and access to the computer systems to get the information that they need to answer the questions asked by the people who are ringing them up.

I am more than happy to congratulate on the Floor of the House the staff of the Inland Revenue, who have worked so splendidly to ensure the delivery of the new tax credits, at times under extreme pressure, with which we are all familiar.

Families are desperate to get the money that they can see the Government are now prepared to pay to them through the new tax credits; many of them are getting it for the first time. My hon. Friend is right that the Department needs to ensure that it provides proper training—which it has done—and updates training to give support to those who are in the front line, both in the contact centres and the Inland Revenue inquiry centres, and who see members of the public face to face. That work will continue.