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HMRC Say You’re A Couple When You’re Not?

Paula5th February 2013

(Updated 24 June 2014)

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If HMRC are investigating your single claim, or have already said they think you are part of a couple, please read below. This page is a detailed walk-through on how to appeal ‘HMRC say I’m not single’ cases, for when you do not feel you should be considered part of a couple.

(Please note: you usually only have 30 days from the date you received the decision letter to start/continue a decision review request and or appeal. But if you were not informed of your right to appeal or other important reasons prevented you, do still appeal now you know you can, and include a brief explanation for the delay in your next letter/form).

This type of case exploded out of nowhere around winter 2012, when HMRC started using so-called credit reference checks (actually theirs is a poor-mans version of, and it shows) to “investigate compliance” on single claims. Within this group are a several smaller sections of case types. Of them these are the most common:

  • You have an ex partner who used to live at your current address with you, but you have now split. However HMRC claim the records show the ex still lives there.
  • Your ex partner / another adult does live at your address, but not as a partner However HMRC insist sharing a residence with you makes them your partner.
  • You split with your partner, claimed as single, then got back together with your partner. However HMRC insist now you should been considered a couple for the period where you were separated.

Usually these cases come about because HMRC have some ‘hints’ that your ex/another adult lived with you (e.g. their post still comes to your address, or old credit files have not been updated) whilst you claimed as single, and are now using this to cancel your award and demand repayment of previously paid awards.

Poorly trained staff will probably tell you that post coming to your address in the other person’s name is solid ‘proof’ and the case is closed and you are a couple. In short; that’s rubbish. Post isn’t even really an issue here, it’s just the indicator that gave HMRC the opportunity to investigate your claim. Or they may tell you that you should have claimed as single despite not living with your ex partner, or that you have to claim as a couple when you share a home with another adult. Again, this is all wrong.

In real, normal, life, post still goes to peoples old address, and many people agreed to let some use their address for post. HMRC are trying to imply that this instead proves you are cheating on your claim. Please don’t let HMRC convince you that you have done anything wrong in letting someone else use your postal address. It is not illegal or in any way wrong. Royal Mail actually say they do not deliver ANYTHING to a person, only to a building! And there are no laws about letting someone use your address for post.

The mortgage issue is another one. HMRC do actually know that people are forced to maintain a joint bank account if they separate, when there is a mortgage involved, but they like to make out this is further proof of cheating on a claim.

And especially where children are involved some financial contribution is allowed (for TC purposes) from an ex, but if you pay the majority of the bills for running your household, then it is reasonable for you to claim as a single person.

There are actually rules (criteria) around how HMRC can decide if you are a couple, and post does not come into it.

If you are not married or civil partnered, the following is HMRC criteria for a couple:

  • Living in the same household.
  • Stability of the relationship.
  • Financial support.
  • Sexual relationship.
  • Dependent children.
  • Public Acknowledgement.

Source and more info here.

If you are married (or CP) but not yet legally separated/divorced, a formal separation agreement would be very useful to provide, but if you don’t have one, your aim is to basically prove the separation is likely to be permanent, that you live as independent people, one is not financial dependent on the other, even if you live in the same house.

In short: where you object to HMRC decision regarding your relationship status you should appeal.

Below is advice regarding the main stages of appealing a decision about your relationship status …

During the First Investigation

If HMRC are still currently investigating your single claim and asking you to prove you are single, please do supply them with the (reasonable) information they demand. Any decision they make, you can challenge later;  just don’t withhold information from them.

If you do not live with a partner or ex-partner and HMRC are asking for proof that your ex lives elsewhere, the following may be useful evidence your ex lives at a different address now:

  • Anything they had posted to them at their new address including mobile phone bills, credit cards, etc.
  • Any utility bills in their name at the new address: Cable, Internet, maybe?
  • Driving license if they changed their address on it, and car insurance too.
  • Did they inform work of a change of address? Ask the employer for a statement to say this.
  • If they accessed a doctors or dentist giving the new address, they can be asked to provide proof.
  • Possibly embarrassing but useful – have they been arrested, cautioned, caught speeding etc and gave the new address?
  • Are they on the electoral roll at the new address? Or did you have them removed from the roll at your address? That helps indicate they left.
  • A statement from family or others simply saying that this person has lived with them since xxx.
  • 2011 census – what property was the ex registered at for it.

If you do live in the same property as your ex, can I suggest you supply a basic personal statement from you both declaring your financial arrangements and personal circumstances. Please note, if you are married or in a civil partnership; what HMRC are looking for is slightly different than if you are not married or in a civil partnership. (see the above criteria)

Suggested action: At this stage you are hoping to stave of a ‘request to review’ or appeal by providing as much useful documentation as possible. So please supply anything that helps prove you should not be considered part of a couple.

But please note that I feel HMRC are now automatically refusing a lot of investigations and ‘requests to review’ just to test whether people will have the will to keep on challenging them (this is an admitted ‘dispute handling technique’ used in many other benefit agencies).

Request to Review the Previous Decision

This stage can get a bit muddy, and may be difficult to distinguish from the previous one depending on how HMRC first contacted you. But basically, HMRC should first of all investigate a decision, and then review it if the claimant disagrees with it. Hopefully they will do this before effecting any of your current payments, but not always unfortunately.

You can even skip this stage and go straight to appeal from the first investigation decision. But if you missed the chance to supply useful evidence at the previous stage (perhaps because HMRC didn’t even contact you before cancelling your single award) then ‘requesting a review’ of the decision may be get a quicker result than having strong evidence but not getting to show it to anyone before a final appeal hearing.

Suggested action: To request a review, simply respond to being notified of the previous decision (i.e the one that says HMRC still think you were part of a couple’) by saying you continue to disagree and ask that the consider x, y and z as evidence.

If HMRC Have Made Their Decision: Appealing

If HMRC have already made their decision and said you should not have claimed as single, but you do not agree, then you should now officially start the part of the process that leads to an independent appeal hearing.

To appeal download, complete and return this form asap: Appeal Form.

To complete the form I suggest the following:

  • Tick [no] for “Will you have a representative at the appeal”.
  • Put the date of recent phone call / letter as the date of the decision you are appealing.
  • Write in the ‘Why I do not agree with the decision” box something like … “I was not part of a couple during the period in question. My ex partners post still came to my address /  has given my address previously / shares the same house but that does not mean we were a couple. I do not even meet enough of your criteria to be considered a couple. HMRC are illegally interfering with my rights to receive benefits I’m entitled to. As such I appeal the decision”.
  • Expand further as you wish. See the above opening section of this page for more information about what HMRC are looking at depending on whether you are married / in a civil partnership, or not.

HMRC will probably respond in about 4 – 8 weeks. They may imply they have ‘already done an appeal’ and that you have lost. This is not true. The proper appeal is run independently and the queue is can be over 8 months, although these days it can be quicker. If your hearing was heard ‘by letter’ then the tribunal service would write to you to confirm any result, so do not accept anything only HMRC say.

Suggested actions: Respond to say you do not accept their decision and wish to continue to the full independent appeal hearing. You should still be ‘in the queue’ anyway, but I no longer trust HMRC to not somehow let cases drop out of the queue.

Further info regarding appeal hearings:

Once you demand to continue on to hearing it is still common for HMRC to continue to try to ‘negotiate’ with you as they seek to avoid the tribunal. Especially if you have a strong case (usually one with good evidence documents) do not accept any ‘deals’, unless they are completely in your favour, and make sure not to be tricked out of continuing on with the appeal. Reply to all documents asking if you want to continue with the answer yes.

If you get no reasonable deal offered while you await your hearing date eventually you will go to a hearing (there is an option now being offered to some of appeal ‘by letter’ but this is not being offered consistently and I hesitate to recommend it because there are delays in you seeing the documents HMRC submit)

I actually seriously doubt most of you will ever get to the hearing date. Aprox 90% of cases are resolved whilst still in the queue for a hearing date. HMRC actually have to still try to negotiate with you to avoid the need for a hearing (ostensibly to reduce the drain on the tribunal panels time, but also because they are getting criticised for the amount of plainly wrong cases that end up needing to appeal). So do expect to hear from HMRC again while you wait for the hearing to come up.

If HMRC ring you, don’t agree to discuss things over the phone, instead insist they put things in writing. And don’t believe any rubbish they give you about you ‘have to drop the appeal’ or having to make repayments while you wait. Just keep insisting they put in writing anything they have to say because you find the calls distressing and harassing, then hang up.

Regarding the actual hearings.

Please don’t panic. I know if sounds scary, but it’s not like a court date or anything I promise you. You are not on trial, this isn’t legal AGAINST you. You are the one demanding the hearing. HMRC are the ones who have to defend themselves.  I have a lot of faith in the hearing, and have a lot of good feedback about what they are like to attended too. The tribunal panel know that victims are not experts and are at pains to make sure you understand what is being said and what is happening. They know all the relevant rules and so it’s not like you have to point them out to them, or come up with your own defence or anything. Although the sessions are often held in court buildings it is not an actual court case (they are just borrowing the rooms for ease from the other half of their own department). There are no lawyers, although both sides can bring representatives. HMRC won’t even talk to you directly. They will talk directly to the panel and will have to justify everything they have done, prove they had the proper proof to act, that they did things the right way, and that the final decisions and calculation is correct and justified (do you see why they seek to avoid the hearings now.

As preparation I would do 1 or possibly 2 simple documents.

1) a timeline of your circumstances from where the trouble starts. Just brief bullet points of events or circumstances in date order. With a short summary at the bottom in plain simple English saying how you do not meet the criteria to have been considered a couple at that point.

2) not strictly part of the appeal but I still think it’s important. A document listing HMRC aggressive and underhand tactics.  Again date order may be the easiest format to work with, so bullet points regarding the criminal action, interviewing an ill woman etc.

The reason I suggest this documents is so that you have a easy to read format as notes on the day reminding you want the appeal hearing needs to be focusing on, and also so you can submit the documents to the panel as notes for their benefit. So take about 6 copies of each with you.

Usually an appeal hearing is the end of the road. You cannot usually appeal and appeal, unless you believe a ‘point of law/policy was not followed’. If you do believe this you have 30 days from the date of the hearing to request a Statement of Reasons, whereby the panel will have to explain on what basis they came to their decision. You would then seek to use this to prove a point of law/policy had not been followed, but this is very uncommon and you should seek expert legal advice if you feel this is the case.

Have They Actually Stopped Your Award Payments and This Is Causing You Financial Hardship?

Suggested action: 10 working days after posting the appeal form in and then involve your MP. Find out who your MP is here then Google their name till you find a constituency telephone number. During office hours ring them and say you need them to act on your tax credit case because HMRC bad decision is causing you poverty, ill health and debt. Your mp has to help so don’t let them fob you off.

Tell them you want them to RING not write to HMRC. The things they need to raise with HMRC are….

  • This is an urgent complaint and appeal about a case causing serious hardship to a family
  • Highlight if you did, that you have declared all this previously.
  • Raise that the claim should be reinstated while the issues are looked at to avoid poverty.
  • Stress that you will appeal, and that due to the circumstances, you will win, so they are wasting time and resources.

Ask them MP’s office to ring you back when they have spoken to HMRC and let you know what’s going on. This HMRC department are usually quite competent so I would at least expect them to acknowledge you can appeal and start an ‘investigation’ into whether they should be reinstating the claim.

Getting harassed for repayment DURING your appeal?

Suggested action: See our guide here if you get harassed for repayment during your appeal.

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