Concentrix: ‘Suicidal calls’ made to tax credits firm

Call centre computers and headsetsImage copyright

A firm used by the government to cut tax credit payments has received calls from “suicidal” clients, the BBC has been told.

A whistleblower at Concentrix’s call centre said most staff “weren’t even trained” to deal with such calls.

He said staff were not offered counselling, but were instead told: “Have a smoke… you’ll be fine.”

But Concentrix said, in the case of suicidal callers, staff were trained in accordance with guidelines from HMRC.

It told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “Our staff are supported as much as possible where we have encountered this type of scenario.”

‘No food’

Last week, US firm Concentrix – which is employed by HMRC to help reduce incorrect or fraudulent tax credit payments – learned it would not have its contract renewed once it expires in May 2017.

This came on the same day as the Victoria Derbyshire programme reported claims that hundreds of people had wrongly had their payments stopped.

Media captionNicola McKenzie told the Victoria Derbyshire programme she was struggling to feed her two-year-old son after her tax credits were removed

Single mother Nicola McKenzie said Concentrix had cut her tax credits after she was wrongly accused of being married to a dead 74-year-old man.

Now, a member of the company’s staff has spoken about the experiences of staff at its call centre in Belfast.

The 600 workers were yelled at “every day” by clients, he said, with “people crying down the phone to you that they’re down to their last bag of wipes, have no food in the fridge to feed their kids”.

“We were dealing with people claiming they were going to commit suicide,” the whistleblower said. “You had to try and keep them on the phone, while a manager phoned the police to get out to their address to make sure that they were OK.

“Some of the [call centre workers] that were dealing with the suicide calls weren’t given the back-up, weren’t given aftercare by our aftercare team. Most of the people weren’t even trained in how to deal with a suicide call.”

Concentrix staff received no “aftercare by our human resources team, or any sort of counselling, after a call”, he claimed, adding: “They were just told, ‘Go out. Have a smoke. Come back. You’ll be fine. Deal with another 40 or 50 calls.'”

‘Not a coincidence’

The whistleblower said he had also spoken to “hundreds” of low-income householders who said their tax credits had been stopped without receiving a letter from Concentrix telling them to provide information within 30 days or their benefits would be halted.

He added: “It couldn’t be a coincidence, so many people calling in that haven’t met each other saying that they hadn’t received this letter… I personally have spoken to hundreds of them.”

Staff were not “allowed to reinstate or even temporarily reinstate their benefits, their tax credits, until they provided information”, he added.

Concentrix said it had completed a validation to confirm that all the advance warning letters that were expected to be sent out were sent out, and that it is satisfied with this process.

It said it acts in strict accordance with guidelines set and provided by HMRC.

“There has 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 further issues,” it said.

“We are contractually obligated to contact individual tax credit claimants based on information provided by HMRC,” it added.

‘Highly supportive’

In a statement, Concentrix said its staff were trained in “exactly the same way” as HMRC staff.

It added: “It is important to realise that our staff are not counsellors and we would never position them as such.

“There are experts who should be involved in situations like these and our staff are trained to ensure those external experts, like the police, are engaged.”

The company said its senior management team was “highly engaged” with both clients and staff and managers were “highly supportive” of the staff who carried out “challenging” work on behalf of HMRC.

HMRC said payments could only be stopped when there was “strong evidence” to support the course of action.

It said: “We provide Concentrix with cases which have been flagged as showing potential discrepancies, along with the data we hold and have received from third parties.

“Concentrix is then responsible for using their own internal checks to identify which of these cases they think require further investigation.”

It said Concentrix writes to claimants asking for information to verify their claim and payments will continue if the claimant responds with the right information with the 30-day timescale.

People who are struggling to cope or would like someone to talk to in confidence can contact the Samaritans by calling 116 123.

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

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Concentrix: ‘Suicidal calls’ made to tax credits firm

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