Frustrated Fleetwood mums left in lurch by benefits fiasco

Mary Stirzaker who has had trouble with her Tx Credit payments, Fleetwood
Mary Stirzaker who has had trouble with her Tx Credit payments, Fleetwood

Single mums in Fleetwood have hit out after a benefits scandal left them – and thousands of low paid workers across the country – in danger of losing their homes.

Fleetwood MP Cat Smith has demanded the Government backs up its decision to ensure there will be no repeat of the Concentrix Tax Credit fiasco, which saw claims frozen or rejected due to shocking mix-ups over personal details.

This week, low-paid mums in the town spoke of their own harrowing experiences with US firm Concentrix.

Self employed nail technician Mary Stirzaker, 48, of Shakespeare Road, said: “I thought I would lose my home when they froze my payments.

“I couldn’t understand why they had done it.

“I had to take out a loan which I am still paying back.”

Another Fleetwood mum, who works as a teaching assistant, was even falsely accused of cohabiting with another woman in a lesbian relationship after a bizarre mix-up of addresses, and went six weeks without her vital weekly payments.

Their cases were only addressed after they sought help from Ms Smith, their MP.

After an uproar following a string of inaccurate details about the claimants, Her Majesty’s Revenues and Customs (HMRC) chief executive Jon Thompson told a committee in Parliament last week that tax credits claimants would never again have to deal with a private company.

Mr Thompson told the Treasury Committee HMRC will no longer look for a third party to help it with the tax credit system.

Concentrix, which was hoped to save the government £1 billion by reducing tax credit fraud and overpayment, had its contract terminated in September.

Ms Smith, the MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood, said: “I have been shocked by the level of mistakes being made locally in Fleetwood and it’s ordinary working families that are really losing out, unfairly.

“I’m being increasingly-contacted by constituents who have been badly affected. So I’ve demanded straight answers for the people of Lancaster and Fleetwood.

“While I welcome that HMRC has finally taken action in announcing that the Concentrix contract will not be renewed after pressure from the public, it is regrettable that it has taken so long to reach this decision.”

Mrs Stirzaker, a mum of five who has two dependents still living at home, said: “The Tax Credits pay for my mortgage and the utility bills and my job pays for everything else.

“But when I separated from my husband and the beginning of the year, the payments stopped when I told the HMRC of a change of circumstances.

“I spent five weeks trying to get to the bottom of that and it was only through the help of Cat Smith’s team that I got it sorted out.

“But I still had more trouble with them and I had to take out a loan.

“I think it is diabolical and if I hadn’t known about going to the MP I don’t know what I would have done.”

Another Fleetwood claimant was a 31-year-old single mother-of two, who works as a teaching assistant in Fleetwood.

She is paid £167 a week to help cover her mortgage and bills, but for six weeks between August and October she had no payments after her eligibility suddenly came into question.

She said; “It was a nightmare. They kept sending my payments to another woman at the wrong address and eventually they told me I was cohabiting with her at my address, which was totally wrong.

“For six weeks I had no payments at all and I got absolutely nowhere when I tried to phone them. I was passed from one number to another.

“The only way I survived was by having a supportive family who bailed me out.

“Now that I’ve finally got my payments, back-dated, I am paying my parents back.

“I only got it all sorted through Cat Smith.

“It is an absolute disgrace.”

Mr Thompson was told by MPs HMRC should consider launching its own internal investigation, but he replied his priority was sorting out customers who had lost money.

But the National Audit Office has also indicated it will investigate the contract between Concentrix and the revenue-gathering body.