Low-earning families were left stranded as a firm employed by the Government to help cut tax credit fraud left 62,000 calls unanswered in one month, a report has found.
A damning review from the National Audit Office (NAO) also found US firm Concentrix missed over half its performance targets and during one month left two-thirds of its post unopened.
In a blog for The Huffington Post, MP Frank Field condemned the company’s “game of Russian roulette” with hungry families and called on the Government to refund those “who faced months of desperation under Concentrix’s reign, for the hardship they endured”.
Concentrix made just 20% of the savings it was hired to achieve, and around a third of the firm’s decisions to stop tax credit awards were later overturned, the report also revealed.
In 2014 Concentrix was awarded a £75m contract by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to help cut tax credit fraud.
Tax credits are Government payments made to households on low incomes.
But HMRC axed the firm’s contract in November after Concentrix was accused of incorrectly withdrawing tax credits from hundreds of claimants.
It also emerged that untrained staff in the company had received ‘suicidal calls’ from people who had had their benefits cut.
An NAO report on Tuesday revealed that in August 2016, Concentrix answered just 139,000 of 201,000 calls.
It met half of its performance targets between November 2014 and September 2015, and in June 2016 opened just a third of its post within the firm’s 15-day target.
The report also revealed Concentrix had saved the taxpayer just £193 million of an expected £1 billion.
Frank Field MP said the review made for “grim reading”.
“My constituents who were wrongly denied cash to feed their children will totally relate to the catalogue of problems identified by the NAO. It is important, of course, for HMRC to learn the right lessons from these problems,” he said.
“Equally important in the short term, though, is to reimburse my constituents – and many other families on low incomes across the country – who went without food and got themselves into huge amounts of debt while Concentrix wrongly withheld their tax credits.”
A Concentrix spokesman said:
“This was a hugely complex contract and programme, and as the report highlights, a number of issues emerged at the outset which laid the foundations for the challenges experienced throughout, particularly last year.”
An HMRC spokesperson said:
“HMRC is absolutely committed to paying tax credit claimants all the money to which they are entitled, efficiently and on time. HMRC terminated the contract with Concentrix when it became clear that it was not delivering the quality of service we expect for our customers.”