Our Only Two Certainties in Life are Death and Taxes… or are they?

At Hylton-Potts, we’ve come across hundreds of cases where members of the public have wrongly had their tax credits deducted or benefits stopped, due to clerical errors or other considerations which were not their fault.

However, a different kind of headline has been making the news recently, and as your go-to reference point and expert on these matters, we thought we’d better bring it to your attention. Hopefully, if you find yourself in these strange circumstances, it will help to reassure you before you pick up the phone to us.

As the saying goes, the two things that we can be sure of in life are death and taxes, but it’s not often that the taxes arrive after the death. You read it correctly; in a bizarre chain of events, there are several members of the public recently who have found themselves not only having to report that they have not died, but having to respond to claims that they also owe money.

In today’s post, we will go over a few of these cases, and inform you of exactly how you should react in such circumstances.

The case of Ms Sharron Sheridan

Although I’m sure most people would react to the news that they had died with humour, presuming it to be a scam or prank of some kind, sadly, there was no humour to be found in the case of Ms Sharron Sheridan, from Stockport. According to a report this month, the self-employed mother-of-two was left living on the breadline after her benefit payments had been delayed by almost six months.

After initially attempting to contact the HMRC about the matter when she first realized her benefit payments had stopped, she was told that her records stated that she had died. Ms Sheridan works as a web developer, and uses her tax credits to top-up her wage, which decreased after she set up her own businesses. She claims that she reported her circumstances had changed when her partner, Katy Galley, moved into her property, and they were in the process of setting up a new, joint claim.

The pair were awaiting financial help, only to find out that a clerical error had marked a box on her records as “Deceased”, but with no death date present. Ms Sheridan is currently owed over £3,000 in tax credits, and her family have been struggling to get by ever since HMRC ceased her payments.

We at Hylton-Potts have seen first-hand the emotional and mental stress that this kind of financial situation can put on families who are in dire need of help. Clearly, Ms Sheridan had contacted HMRC to try and notify them of a change in circumstances, so she reacted responsibly and within the law; this issue is an error that rests purely with HMRC.

Are there other cases like these?

Although this particular case developed over the last couple of months, there have been numerous other cases where this kind of mishap has occurred.

In September of last year, Debbie Balandis was shocked to discover that her benefit claims had ceased due to the fact that the HMRC believed her to be in a new relationship. This may not seem so unusual, if it weren’t for the fact that the relationship was with her local shop where she drew out her benefit payments.

Her newsagents, RS McColl, went by the trading of Martin McColl, who her tax agents believed to be her new boyfriend. Upon receiving a distressed phone call from Ms Balandis, they still refused to issue her benefits until she could prove that she was not in a relationship.

In similarly bizarre tales, Peter Moore, Shirley Featherstone and Toni Francis were all sent letters claiming that the HMRC had been informed of their deaths, and that they needed details to assess whether executors of their state owed them any money, for debts accrued while the deceased had been alive.

Aside from these individual cases, we can see as a general rule that the government needs some reform in this area, as there have been errors on a far larger scale. You may have seen in January of this year that thousands of low paid workers were left on the breadline for up to four months, after government contractors turned off their tax credits.

It was reported that salary subsidies were being suspended whenever claimants notified the HMRC of circumstantial changes, including new relationships or house moves, and tax bosses admitted that they had a backlog of paperwork for thousands of claimants, which had led to the delays.

However, the problem could escalate as the year progresses if errors like these are not dealt with swiftly, as 2.3 million tax credit claimants reported a change of circumstance last year.

What can you do?

HMRC are clearly under pressure to meet government targets, but they provide such a vital service that any error can not only result in financial hardship, but undue stress and heartache on families about the “death” of their loved ones.

With any tax credit or benefit claim, the most important thing is to seek legal advice. The best thing you can do if you feel you’ve been treated unfairly or that an error has been made, is to speak to us about the facts.

At Hylton-Potts, we advise families every day on these matters, and we understand exactly how vital these payments are to families. The first thing you need to check, is whether or not you have made HMRC aware of any changes to your circumstances or household, or whether you gave them incorrect information, even mistakenly.

If you have made every effort to do so and an error, clerical or human, has been made on your records, then we can help establish where the fault truly lies. If you feel that any of this applies to you, or if you just would like some more information about your entitlement to tax credits and benefits, don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call us on 020 7381 8111, or via email at [email protected].

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