Posted by Tara Taubman-Bassirian on July 12, 2016.
UPDATE : 14th September 2016, after a too long debacle, HMRC has decided not to extend contract with Concentrix following outcry over wrong tax credit cuts.
‘Private welfare contractor Concentrix blocks BBC programme on Twitter after exposé’
As a result of privatization, Concentrix, a private company, is acting on behalf of the HMRC to reduce the amount of tax credit paid. Under the vague suspicion of someone living with the single parent, every sometime, Concentrix send out letter, requesting a massive amount of documents : 12 months of ALL bank statements, 12 months of utility bills: gas, electricity, phone and water, 12 months of council tax, 12 month of mortgage statement or rental agreement, divorce decree. This seems to be an ongoing harassment of single parents. We can imagine the cost of print, photocopy and postage of all these documents for vulnerable single parents. Many have expressed their pain on various online forums.
The legitimacy of these requests is highly questionable. A FOI request and a public inquiry have raised the issue of the cost of such private company spending tax payer money.
As an online commentator points:
‘How does sending in 12 months of bank statements, your rent agreement, your council tax bill and a full list of the people that live with you and your relationship to them prove one way or another that you have a partner living with you. Not every couple have joint bank accounts. Your rent agreement won’t necessarily have a partners name on it especially if you met after the rent agreement was made up…”
I am questioning the security and privacy invasion of such a massive request of personal information revealing most sensitive information on political, social, and religious activities.
It is unclear :
Concentrix being a subsidiary of a US company, I wonder what their situation could be since the invalidation of the Safe Harbor data flow outside the European Economic Area (EEA)?
Concentrix is part of the multibillion pound US business services company Synnex. According to Wikipedia: ‘Concentrix is a high value business services company founded in 1991.A wholly owned subsidiary of SYNNEX Corporation (NYSE: SNX).‘
‘We are extremely concerned that this practice is distressing vulnerable families and causing panic and anxiety for people who are managing to hold together a family on a very low income. We also fear that the parents who are most distressed by these vexatious requests are often already suffering from stress and mental health issues. Many of the requests sent to single parents claim ‘evidence’ of wrong doing, even when such evidence was wholly absent. They include the case of a widow who had been living on her own, since the death of her husband in 2004.‘
A second petition by Gareth Brown to HMRC has collected signatures, asking to ‘STOP CONCENTRIX ASSAULTING SINGLE MOTHERS FOR PROFIT.’
The Mirror reports the case of this single mother forced to cancel her Christmas festivities as her benefits were suddenly cut.
Many have reported their painful experience on Mumsnet Website some not taking the letter seriously as looking more like a spam than a legitimate request :
Using online forums such as Mumsnet, some women said they thought the letters were a hoax because they asked for personal financial information such as bank and mortgage statements to be sent to the company within 30 days. Those who ignore the letters apparently risk having their tax credits halted.
The Independent reported on ‘People in need at risk of losing tax credits after being wrongly accused of cheating.Thousands unfairly hounded over tax credits by US services company working for HMRC‘
Money Saving Expert was as well alarmed by the practice : ‘Single parents sent ‘threatening’ letters asking for proof they live alone’.
The Advisor Guide recommends:
Information Concentrix will ask
If your client has been contacted by Concentrix they will have been asked to confirm the information HMRC holds about them. Your client may be asked to provide further information or evidence in writing by a particular date about a range of details. This could include details about their children, child care costs, partner in the household, disability, work and hours and their income.
Please note: If your client does not reply by the date requested their tax credits award may be reviewed and changed, based on the information HMRC holds.
‘In September, an IT system failure meant the firm could not fulfill an outsourced tax credit contract for three months.
Staff in Belfast were told to come to the office and clock in every day, even though they could not work because their computers were cut off from those on the mainland.’
‘Asked about the the failure of HMRC IT systems, the spokesman said: “Concentrix and HMRC did everything in their power to get the project started as soon as possible. The taxpayer incurred no costs and Concentrix covered all the expenses of this three-month period, including employee salaries.” ‘
In June 2015, The Guardian Warns ‘Company that threatened tax credit claimants could become MoJ’s bailiffs‘.
‘The decision to privatise a functioning arm of government angered many civil servants and Labour MPs. They fear that sensitive information held by the courts, such as addresses, will have to be passed to the private sector to allow the bailiffs to do their jobs properly.’
‘Last year, two private companies that held contracts with the MoJ for the electronic tagging of offenders admitted they had been overcharging taxpayers by tens of millions of pounds. The two firms – G4S and Serco – had charged to monitor non-existent electronic tags, some of which had been assigned to dead offenders.’
In June 2015, James Davies, Campaigns Officer, PCS, writes in ‘SpeakUp for Justice’, reporting several malfunctions :
‘Concentrix were controversially hired in November 2014 by HM Revenue and Customs to carry out its fraud and error detection work. Since the contract began the Citizens Advice Bureau have reported a 20 per cent rise in people seeking help with tax credits problems. Staff employed by Concentrix have complained of inadequate training and told The Independent newspaper that they are under pressure to open 40 to 50 new investigations every day without having time to check whether the allegations they are making stack up.’
‘The department is claiming that it needs private investment to improve IT services. However, HM Courts and Tribunal Service announced last year that £375 million would be available for enhanced “infrastructure” for the criminal courts including replacing the computers of the magistrates’ and crown courts. This will remove many of the barriers to effective in-house enforcement caused by the geographical configuration of the magistrates’ courts’ computers.’
However, HMRC claims extra £100m generated from Concentrix tie-up.
In response to a FOI request by Sonia Poulton, it has been revealed that :
“From Nov 2014 to 11 Feb 2016 Concentrix wrote to around 250,000 claimants that were claiming as a single person for further information
Concentrix amended around 19,000 awards – this does not mean there were fraus- they can tell how many had tax reduced.
136,000 awards, where the claimant was asked for some further information about a potential partner, were not amended = unnecessary trouble
HMRC expects the total value of the
contract with Concentrix to be between £55m and £75m of tax payers.
Spending watchdog said Synnex-Concentrix …had not performed as well as expected and its savings target was now “not achievable”.
For the Telegraph there is a serious discrepancy between the promised profits and the actual rates :
‘A private sector project to crack down on tax-credit fraud and error has saved the public purse just £500,000 in the past year, compared to a projected saving of £285m, marring an overall improvement in HM Revenue & Customs’ tax-collecting capability.’
The £100m figure represents an astonishing turnaround after a July report from the National Audit Office found the benefits of the contract had been “lower than expected”, while HMRC’s own estimates showed project delivered savings of just £0.5m in 2014/15, compared with its original forecast of £285m.
“Delays in the service going live” and a lower-than-expected number of interventions completed by the supplier were cited by the NAO as key reasons for the meagre savings. In February, Accountancy Age exclusively revealed Concentrix staff did no work for nearly three months because of a systemic IT failure.
The original estimate of £1bn in savings over the three year contract is not achievable, the NAO found. HMRC currently estimates that the project will deliver savings of £423m – something Homer reiterated in the hearing – although that is reliant on increasing staff numbers and improving performance.
Louise Haigh MP ‘took the unusual step of raising a “Point of Order” in the House of Commons after becoming “seriously concerned” at the lack of accountability of the US outsourcing giant Concentrix, who won a £75m contract with HMRC to take over some of their functions in relation to tax credits’
Parliament Written Question to ask Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether Concentrix has met its targets set in its service level agreement.
Despite all these complaints, nothing has changed. More letter are sent out, and more data accumulated. Some are even being checked for the second time.
The privacy and data protection situation of the data collected remains highly concerning especially since the invalidation of the Safe Harbor Agreement Concentrix being a US company.
The website’s Privacy agreement of Synnex/Concentrix is not reassuring. No information concerning Cookies could be found and no evidence of compliance with You share charter.
From Glassdoor’s website, employees comments, unsurprisingly, many have complained about their work conditions and poor salaries. Which security/data protection to expect from low paid, low respected employees with low devotion for their employer?
In conclusions, they are serious doubts on the efficiency of the company and the use of tax payers money. They are even more concern about the collect of such sensitive data and the IT security.
Further reading :