Tax credits firm receives suicidal calls
Concentrix, a company used by HMRC to cut fraud and errors in tax credit payments, has received calls from people who had had their credits stopped, and were so distressed by their new situation that they were suicidal. The claim was made by a 'whistleblower', who told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme that staff hadn't been properly trained to deal with these calls.
Concentrix has hit the headlines in recent months, after it emerged that there had been a sharp rise in complaints from claimants who had had their tax credits cut. In many cases, these were single people, who were told they would not receive payments again until they could prove they were not in a relationship. In one instance, a teenager was wrongly said to have been married to a 74-year-old man - who it later turned out was actually dead.
The member of staff at its Belfast call centre told the BBC they were called every day by people in tears, and those who had no food to feed their children. They received calls from people who said they were going to kill themselves - and had to keep them talking while a manager called the police.
Concentrix told the programme that staff were trained to guidelines from HMRC and are supported as much as possible when faced with incidents like this. It said that its staff were not counsellors, and they would "never position them as such". Instead, they said outside agencies such as the police were called in immediately.
The member of staff added that he and his colleagues had no power to reinstate benefits - even temporarily. Concentrix defended this, saying: "There had to be a process and our staff are not there to apply a discretionary judgement, or implement their own exemptions as this would lead to future issues."
The horrible situations people find themselves in should not come as a surprise to many people. Experts have been warning that this would be the final result of cutting people's assistance. In April a mental health charity warned that around half of those who contacted them considering suicide had financial problems or problems with housing. Almost a third were also worried about having their welfare payments cut.
Back in June, Baroness Meacher specifically warned that as tax credits were cut more generally, it would lead to people taking their own lives. She wanted to see the government take responsiblity for these vulnerable people, to ensure they had adequate support.
Whether a call centre employee is the right person to be the point of contact for providing this support is questionable - regardless of whether or not they have had a short period of training.
Lack of training?
Reviews on Glassdoor - which allows people to post anonymous reviews of their employers - would seem to indicate that the training isn't perfect across the board. Some employees report that they haven't had enough training to deal with challenging calls, while others say that when they raised queries with managers, they were not taken seriously.
Of course it's difficult to confirm that each of these reviews are real, but given that the firm has been rated 753 times, and has an overall rating of 2.6 out of 5, unless a few disgruntled staff have been very busy creating profiles and posting angry reviews for months, there are clearly come issues within the organisation.
Concentrix has not had its contract renewed by the government.