Mum with cerebral palsy son has benefits cut in Concentrix blunder

Nicola Crawford and her boys
Nicola Crawford and her boys

Cerebral palsy sufferer Corey Stevenson is the latest victim of cold-hearted Concentrix bosses after they slashed his mum’s benefits.

Mum-of-two Nicola Crawford was wrongly accused of living with a partner by the company, which has been paid to root out tax credit fraud.

But even when the Dunmurry woman provided proof she lived alone Concentrix still cut her income by £200 a week.

Distraught Nicola was also ordered to repay £2,800 in tax credits and ended up with £800 in rent arrears when her Housing Benefit was stopped.

She says her summer should have been spent with four-year-old Corey, who has cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus and epilepsy, and his 10 year old brother Michael. Instead she spent weeks trying to contact the company, spending up to 90 minutes at a time waiting on hold.

It was only thanks to the intervention of Citizen’s Advice Belfast and a call to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show that Nicola has had her benefits reinstated.

She spoke out to highlight the plight of other lone parents left in poverty by Concentrix.

“This whole process has been soul-destroying. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else,” says Nicola.

The American business services company was awarded a £75 million contract by HMRC in May 2014 to save £1 billion in fraudulent or incorrect tax credit claims.

After the government said the contract wouldn’t be renewed it ended the contracts of 150 temporary staff at its Belfast-based operation on Friday.

The Northern Ireland call centre has been at the centre of national controversy after a series of blunders, and accusations that its heavy-handed approach has left clients feeling suicidal.

A single mum in York had her income cut because a Concentrix investigation concluded she was living with a partner called Joseph Rowntree. She had to ask her local MP Rachel Maskell to explain that she lived in a home owned by the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, named after the famous charity campaigner who died in 1925.

Nicola found herself in an equally impossible situation when the company said she was living with a partner who was in fact the previous tenant in her Helm Housing home.

“I’ve never even met him, but because there is still junk mail coming to the house for him they said he was my partner,” she says.

“In May Concentrix wrote to me saying someone was living with me and I needed to provide evidence like bank statements, gas bills, electricity bills, which I sent off to them.”

Nicola says she initially had no concerns that she would be believed. She supplied all of the documents Concentrix requested and took Corey to Manchester for a week where he had to undergo tests for his epilepsy.

She returned home to a letter from the company saying her benefits had been slashed by two thirds, leaving her with £99 a week to rear her family. Her Housing Benefit was also cut and she was later ordered to repay nearly £3,000 in tax credits by October.

It was only the financial support from her family and DLA she received for Corey’s care which kept the family afloat.

“It was really terrible. The worst thing was that I didn’t know what I was fighting against,” said Nicola.

“I had to prove I didn’t live with a partner rather than them proving I did live with someone. They treated me as guilty without any evidence.

“Corey has a disability social worker who wrote to Concentrix and said she’d been in and out of my house for three years and knew I lived alone, but nothing made any difference.”

On one occasion when Nicola became distressed on the phone she was yelled at by the Concentrix advisor.

“I asked how could they say I was living with someone and he started shouting at me that he wouldn’t be spoken to like that.”

When the Victoria Derbyshire programme recently exposed how the company’s thousands of mistakes were pushing lone parents to the brink of poverty and even suicide Nicola phoned in.

Within a day she had received a phone call from a senior HMRC official who apologised and promised to reinstate her benefits.

“I’d like to thank the people at Citizens Advice Belfast who were brilliant, and Helm Housing were really helpful to me,” says Nicola.

“I’m so glad it’s over, but there are people out there still going through this and God help them.”

Sunday World asked Concentrix for a comment on Nicola’s case but it did not respond.

[email protected]