Written Ministerial Statements
Wednesday 24 January 2007
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) made a ruling in Strasbourg on 14 November on the case of Tsfayo v. The United Kingdom (Application number 60860/00)
Ms Tsfayo's case concerned a dispute regarding her entitlement to housing benefit and whether she was afforded a fair hearing of her appeal by an independent and impartial tribunal as set out in article 6 § 1 of ECHR. The ECtHR held that the lack of an independent and impartial first instance tribunal could not, in that particular case, be remedied by judicial review.
In contrast, the Tax Credits Act 2002 provides for a right of appeal against a decision on entitlement, and therefore an opportunity to challenge the amount of any overpayment that has arisen, or the determination of a penalty or a decision that interest should be charged on an overpayment of tax credit. These appeals are to the Unified Appeals tribunals, which are independent and impartial to HMRC and therefore the provisions of article 6 § 1 ECHR are satisfied.
Unlike a decision regarding entitlement to tax credits, HMRC's decision to recover an overpayment under s28 Tax Credits Act is not a determination of civil rights and obligations within article 6 § 1 ECHR. Even if it were however, in seeking to recover an overpayment, HMRC is exercising a discretionary power and an appeal against such a decision by way of judicial review would fully satisfy the provisions of article 6 § 1 ECHR.
A claimant does have the right to dispute the recovery of an overpayment by way of an internal review by the Tax Credit Office. In addition, they can ask either the Adjudicator or, through their Member of Parliament, the Parliamentary Ombudsman to consider the handling of their case.
The ECtHR ruling has no adverse implications for tax credits.
Work and Pensions
Benefits System (Tackling Error)
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has today published its five-year strategy for reducing error in the benefits system.
DWP has made great progress in reducing fraud in the benefits system which is now at its lowest ever level. However, more work is needed to reduce both official and customer error.
The Department is committed to providing a quality service to its customers by paying the right amount of benefit to all its customers every time. But sometimes staff fail to follow procedures and sometimes customers make mistakes in the information they provide to the Department. This results in both official and customer error.
This strategy for reducing error in the benefits system focuses on:
preventing error from entering the system from the outset,
correcting error that is already within the benefits system, and
increasing compliance with and understanding of processes by both staff and
customers to ensure that once claims are corrected, they remain correct.
As part of this strategy, DWP will also launch today a new customer awareness campaign pilot, something to declare, in Peterborough. The aim of this campaign is to help our customers to understand more fully the changes they need to report as they happen to help us keep their benefit claims correct and up to date.
Copies of the strategy have been placed in the Library and are also available to Members from the Vote Office. The report will also be available online at: