HMRC have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to their processes to enable vulnerable groups of customers to be able to interact with them. The Equality Act 2010 requires HMRC to consider such adjustments through an Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA) made before major changes are implemented. This document assesses the impact of any new policy on certain groups with ‘protected characteristics’ such as a disability. If implementing the policy would deny equality of opportunity to such groups, the authority (HMRC in this case) is obliged either to justify the discrimination or to take action to mitigate its effects, even in some cases to abandon the policy where mitigating action cannot be taken.
HMRC introduced the Tax Credits ID Authentication Service (IDAS) over 18 months ago without producing any equality assessment, but after pressure from the Benefits and Credits Consultation Group (the consultative body of professional and volunteer organisations) HMRC agreed to carry out a belated EQIA and this was published in February 2011.
IDAS is a process whereby if tax credit claimants telephone the helpline wishing to renew a claim, obtain information or report a change of circumstances, HMRC ask them to confirm their identity by answering a series of security questions. If a claimant does not answer the questions correctly, they are required to attend an interview at one of the diminishing numbers of enquiry centres around the country, causing them delay, cost and inconvenience.
In their belated EQIA HMRC have seriously downplayed IDAS’s impact on vulnerable groups of claimants. While we recognise the need for HMRC to guard against fraud, we take the view that the Department is in breach of its public equality duty by continuing to operate the policy without making reasonable adjustments for such groups.
Recent cases reported to us include:
- A terminally ill man required to make a long trip to an enquiry centre in order to verify his identity so that he could make a claim.
- A family social worker having to accompany a single parent and a seriously disabled child to an enquiry centre as the journey by public transport was beyond them. HMRC had claimed they did not have enough information about the family.
In our response to this EQIA, LITRG has criticised HMRC strongly for:
- failing to produce an equality impact assessment before introducing the policy;
- continuing to treat vulnerable claimants inappropriately;
- remaining in breach of their equality duty.
We also made a number of recommendations as to mitigating actions HMRC should be taking.
HMRC have a responsibility to prevent fraud in the tax credits system, but this does not override the rights of their customers.
Identity Authentication Service - EQIA - LITRG response
Contact – Victoria Todd (please use form at http://www.litrg.org.uk/ContactUs)