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Some of those families have applied, but have not yet been able to wade through the thicket of red tape to get their payments, while many others have not even applied in the first place. Ministers have given a range of estimates of the number of families affected, so I want to make the arithmetic absolutely clear. The Inland Revenue set it out in a very helpful poster, simply saying,
We have had a range of estimates from the Government. The Paymaster General has sometimes said that 6 million are eligible. In the pre-Budget report the Chancellor said that around 5.75 million families with children were expected to benefit from the child tax credit. In fact, as fears of a debacle loomed, the Treasury's official estimate of the number of children and families entitled to the tax credit miraculously started disappearing. The Treasury took the cautious and careful measure of reducing the target before being
What we knowthe Paymaster General has made it clear again todayis that so far 4.2 million families are receiving the child tax credit and that a further 1.3 million families on income support or jobseeker's allowance will be moved on to that credit. That adds up to 5.5 million families: the gap between 5.5 million and 6.5 million is 1 million. There we have the 1 million families that are not receiving the help to which they are entitled. Those are the simple facts, and those are the families that we are representing in the debate tonight.
Roger Casale (Wimbledon): The hon. Gentleman seems to have a good command of the figures, so can he tell us how many families are eligible for the credit in his constituency and what he has done to inform them about how to take it up?
Mr. Willetts: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have done considerable work on the Inland Revenue MPs' phoneline trying to help constituents who come to my surgeries in great distress about their inability to get the tax credits, and every Opposition Memberand, I suspect, Government Memberhas been doing exactly the same. We all know what the problem is and why it arose. Part of the reason I have before me nowa 12-page claim form that every family is supposed to fill in. It is said that it could be a lot worse, but the reason that it is only 12 pages is that in order to fill it in claimants have to read the 47-page information booklet as well, taking them through question after question, so families have to wrestle through 59 pages in all in order to get the tax credits that should be theirs by right.
I shall give the House some examples of the problems that people have encountered. My hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), whom I see in his place, mentioned his constituent, Mrs. Stocker, who received a letter from Inland Revenue stating that she had not
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Mrs. Stocker, my constituent, originally applied for the tax credit as long ago as last September. Despite much correspondence and many telephone calls, she received an acknowledgement only in November. She eventually received the reply to which my hon. Friend referred, but does he realise that she worked for Inland Revenue, so they had all the details all the time? Even worse, when I rang the MPs' helpline I was told that, because she worked for Inland Revenue, I could not use the line because her details were confidential.
Mr. Willetts: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that extra twist in this extraordinary saga. Other examples abound. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Mr. Hendry) cited a case of someone who did not receive the tax credit, despite earning only £10,000 a year, because Inland Revenue had placed the comma in the wrong place and believed that she earned £100,000 a year. She received a letter explaining that she would not receive the tax credit for that reason. There are many examples of families caught in that trap.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) showed me a phone bill from one of his constituents who had made 325 phone calls to the hotline to try to disentangle his child tax credit claim. One of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), also in his place this evening, made 70 phone calls to the hotline. The man on that line eventually told him that someone would call him between 8 and 11 the next morning to sort out his problem. He then added, in a moment of truthfulness, that
Mr. David Cameron (Witney): Is my hon. Friend aware that the problem with administration also affects the Pension Service and pension credits? My constituent, Mrs. Costar, received a letter from her mother's last address, saying: