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Letters: Hounded by the Revenue debt collectors



Thank you for highlighting on your front page (30 May) the under-reported issue of tax credit debt collection tactics.

We are being pursued by HMRC for £2,500, which is solely due to my partner and I each starting jobs over a two-year period. Our changes in income immediately put us in “debt” because the Tax Credits system cannot adapt to significant financial changes occurring late on in the financial year.

We have been hounded by letters and phone calls from a debt-collection agency and so I wrote to our MP and contacted National Debtline for advice. After we wrote to HMRC to complain, as advised, the harassment has stopped – but will no doubt restart as I intend to fight this appalling treatment, and the basic principle of intimidating poor people who are victims of a well-meaning, but flawed, system.

Your report does not mention that “debts” are sold on to debt-collection agencies even before the first stage of the tax credits appeals procedure has been allowed to run its course.

I wrote to HMRC to appeal in October 2013 and received a response just over a week ago after calling several times to request a reply.

The appeals system appears to work on the basis that people will give up if they are ignored and threatened at the same time.

A fair system designed to help low-income families is now penalising and bullying them. The articulate and tenacious may manage to fight these disgraceful tactics but most people are likely to cave in under the pressure of nasty letters and  phone calls from agencies who are experts at harassment and intimidation which stays just within the law.

Lyn Poole, Mossley, , Greater Manchester


Europe: back to the Iron Curtain

Back in the days of Communist parties there was a system called democratic centralism. Ivan’s vote put Dmitri on to the local party committee; which elected a higher party committee; which elected an even higher party committee; which (behind closed doors) elected the Central Committee, where the real power was exercised. Of course, that happened in a place very far distant from Ivan, whose political opinions were ignored once he had voted for Dmitri.

“You don’t seem to like our leader’s policies, Ivan. But don’t you understand? It’s your own fault for electing Dmitri.”

For the Central Committee read the European Council, which may appoint Jean-Claude Juncker behind closed doors to lead the EU. And to think that we were told that the Cold War was all about defending true democracy in western Europe against the hollowed-out, sham version current in the east.

Michael McCarthy, London W13


Nigel Boddy (Letter, 3 June) wonders why those in favour of staying in the EU are so afraid of an immediate referendum. Today’s paper (4 June) provides a graphic example, in the form of a quote from a Ukip supporter talking about Polish immigrants: “You’re walking in the town and you hear them jabber-jabber in their own language then laughing, so you know they’re saying something derogatory.” 

What chance is there that such a person will do anything other than vote to leave the EU, simply because he is a xenophobe?  

Mike Perry, Ickenham, Middlesex


Taming the chaotic cyber world

There is nothing about the “right to be forgotten” to justify your editorial’s sub-heading: “a licence to rewrite history” (31 May). And if “balancing” is allowed against the well-established “right to know”, what justifies the claim “the latter has to take precedence”? Since it cannot be that it always has to, we are back to the starting point: asking who should decide what ought to be “forgotten” and when.

It is premature to despair at the difficulty of answering such questions and an evasion of responsibility to conclude that until, in some chimerical future, agreed rules operate “across every jurisdiction in the world”, nothing worthwhile is achievable. There’s a clear public interest here and now in protecting privacy, and much else threatened by the chaotic state of the cyber world by extending and improving data protection law.

As with tax law, it is possible to argue for changes even if their remit is restricted and in need of constant adjustment. The “uncomfortable truth” is less that the web is uncontrollable; more that the struggle to humanise it must be a never-ending quest.

But it is a quest no committed liberal democrat can disengage from; for, as J S Mill put it: “All that makes existence valuable to any one, depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people” (On Liberty).

Richard Bryden, Llandudno, Gwynedd


Ugly side of the beautiful game

Keith O’Neill’s letter (4 June), praising women footballers for their sporting play, misses the point. Cheating, diving, play-acting, whingeing, berating officials and diving are surely why most people go to watch men’s football matches. What pleasure can there be in watching a game in which no one ever breaks a rule and everyone just plays the beautiful game as it is supposed to be played? Why else are the cloggers and spitters so popular?

Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire


Uncounted costs of immigration

All the discussion about immigration seems to centre on whether your views are perceived to be racist. How about judging immigration purely from an economic standpoint? 

If people from the EU relocate to the UK, having secured well-paid jobs on which they pay tax and National Insurance, I imagine the majority of UK-born citizens will have little issue with this.  

What is a real concern is the number of people who enter the UK with few skills and enter low-paid, part-time employment. Someone on minimum wage can be working and still be entitled to housing benefit and council tax support. Those with children will also access child tax credits and child benefit. Then you need to factor in the costs of the household accessing the NHS and education. 

EU immigration becomes an issue when households cost the UK economy more than they pay in. No mainstream political party has assessed immigration and its financial cost in terms of in-work benefits. Until they do, people will vote for parties who may have a more sinister edge to their anti-immigration stance.

K Barrett, Mossley, Greater Manchester


D-Day: Don’t forget the French sacrifices

How Anglo-centric is this country going to become? A month or so ago we were hearing noisy claims about the effects the immigrants have on England, and scarcely a word in the press or on TV about the suffering which causes anyone to leave home to cross seas and a continent.

Now we remember D-Day. Those of us who were on active service but not, alas, in Normandy had nothing but the highest regard for those who landed, and knew the slaughter of the first 10 weeks or so. That regard has remained with me all my life (I am now 96).

But where are the expressions of sympathy and admiration for the French people, woken in the early hours of D-Day by the explosions of naval shells from unseen and distant warships, and then all that followed? Homes, villages, churches, and, above all, human lives, cattle, means of living lost or damaged; railways and roads machine-gunned, bridges destroyed, towns such as Caen and Falaise ruined, and all this after four years of enemy occupation. Was it necessary? Of course it was, not just to liberate France but to change the balance of the war.

So, please can we remember too the heroism of the French? Recommendations of English books, films or DVDs on this subject would be a welcome surprise.

Bob Hope, Leicester


Bees from abroad

Tom Bawden’s account (4 June) of alleged dangers to our already declining “native” bumblebees from foreign “invaders” reassures readers by reporting that their “pollination services” could prove “hugely beneficial” (4 June). Should we permit xenophobic traditional bee-lovers to scapegoat a rapidly spreading immigrant species for government failures in “food chain” investment?

David Ashton, Sheringham, Norfolk



Greetings from Yorkshire

As a fellow Yorkshireman, like Bryan Jones (letter, 4 June), I occasionally use “Eh up”, but my preferred meaningless Yorkshire greeting is the magnificently all-encompassing “Now then”.

Mark Redhead, Oxford