03 Dec

Working tax credits – challenging the “commercial” test.

In early January, HMRC had requested a set of very specific information from me – accounts, receipts, that kind of thing and I had sent them exactly what they asked for.  At the end of January, I went to check my bank balance one day, expecting to see my working tax credits and…nothing.  No working tax, and no child tax credits. I rang the office, expecting for there to have been an error of some kind, only to be told that I had failed their tests and that they would be taking my child tax credits – the money meant for my son – to repay the alleged debt that I owed them.

Devastated, I asked for further information but they could only tell me that the decision-maker’s word was final.  No advice, no word of where I had gone wrong, nothing.

Back in 2015, the rules changed for self-employed people claiming working tax credits and anyone that didn’t meet the new criteria would no longer be eligible.  I thought nothing of it, after all I worked regular hours, was profitable, and my business had a future.  Someone, somewhere, had decided otherwise, and nobody could tell me why.

Ten months later, I have won my appeal against their decision in a tribunal.  It has been tough, stressful, I have used food banks and borrowed money for bills, my son has gone without clubs and classes but we have won, just in time for Christmas.

I could not have done it without some key information, which is what I am going to share with you now, for if this abrupt removal of your lifeline happens to you.  It is cruel and inhumane what they are doing to us self employed people and if you are a) in a creative business and b) universal credit is coming to your area, you are at risk.

To avoid all of this, to exempt yourself from the profitability and commerciality test: 

  • Register as a limited company.  As  company director you will be an employee not a self employed person so the new punitive rules no longer apply.  Be aware though: as a company director, your name and address will be available to the public.  This is a risky move for some people.  Do your research. Be safe.

Prior to your tax credits being stopped:

  • If they ask you for a set of information, receipts etc., know that you are being assessed.
  • Send what they ask for, plus: a business plan for the financial year in question, future financial forecasts for the year in question, flyers, business cards and a comprehensive explanation of your business.  They need to be reassured that you have four weeks’ work in the future to do.
  • Send photocopies only, because I hear they lose a LOT of information that is sent to them.
  • Send it all by special delivery, so that they cannot deny receiving it.  This will all cost quite a bit of money, but trust me, it is worth it.  Losing your documents is a common occurrence.

I can’t guarantee this will, help, but that is the kind of thing they look for.

If you wake up one morning and have no cash, if they have stopped your money:

  • Ring and ask for a “mandatory reconsideration”.  You need to send them anything that you think might add to your case.  Tell them you can’t feed your kids and they need to start paying you your child tax credits back.
  • Citizens Advice can help at this stage.
  • IMPORTANT (because this takes a long time to come) put in a Freedom of Information Request asap. This is VITAL, they will not tell you the exact reason that your claim has been terminated, you will have to scour the information here and find out for yourself.  Within it is a score sheet. This will tell you more.  You won’t get this in time for your Mandatory Reconsideration, but you will do in time for your appeal.

If they turn down your Mandatory Reconsideration:

  • Citizen’s advice cannot help you here, they are not qualified enough.  If you are lucky and live in the right place, see if you can find a Law Centre.  If like me you don’t have the right postcode to get “free” help, you have two options: pay for a solicitor, or, do it yourself.  As I had no cash for a solicitor, I took the latter.
  • Begin your appeal straight away.  Revenue Benefits has loads of information about how to do this.
  • TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. You have a tiny window of time to appeal in and chances are any letters they send you will be dated several weeks before you receive them, so you have to work fast.  Don’t worry, you will have plenty of time to prepare your case – between three months to a year before your case is heard in the Tribunal court.
  • Use this time to go through your FOI with a fine tooth comb to find out how they have marked you down on their score sheet and find evidence to disprove their (what are likely to be) assumptions.
  • Back this up with evidence that you’ve been working hard in the meantime.
  • Keep a time-sheet, make sure your accounts are kept up to date etc, because when they call you to court, you’ll have maybe two weeks notice.
  • Make a formal complaint.  For me, this confirmed what I had discovered via the FOI, that they had marked me down for information that they hadn’t actually asked for! if you’d like an email address, ask me.
  • Check case law.
  • Try to find someone to go with you.  This availability varies drastically area to area, so you’ll have to do your own research here.
  • Don’t give up.

 

20 Feb

The Yin and Yang of life

Recently I have studied a little about the Tao Te Ching, just out of interest, and then had the most perfect example of Tajitu (yin/yang) happen in my own life, as if to prove the wisdom of the ancient Taoist text.

When people see things as beautiful,
ugliness is created.
When people see things as good,
evil is created.

Being and non-being produce each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low oppose each other.
Fore and aft follow each other.

I’m not sure if this post is about Tajitu, or the evil of the English government, or the goodness of people.  I will let you decide.

It’s fairly well known in the UK that our current government has been successful in it’s campaign in conjunction with the mainstream media to demonise the poor and divide society so that it can dismantle the welfare state that Harry Leslie Smith and his generation of people fought and died for.  The current Conservative government  promised to not cut Working Tax Credits but in reality have done so by freezing the amounts that working families receive so that they fall in relation to inflation.  In  2014 rules were introduced to rule out people who were claiming that their hobbies were a business and then receiving Working Tax credits.  The criteria in brief was that the business must be HMRC registered and carried out with the aim of making a profit.

ShoeDoodles started in 2015.  Previously to this date, I worked as a blogger and web designer and had a limited company but a stalker tracked me down using this information and forced me to close the business.  I had painted a few pairs of shoes for friends to say thank you for help and support and somebody suggested I set up an Etsy shop, because my work was good.  So I did, and to my surprise I got some orders, and some more orders and here I am today, with many happy customers, all over the world and my painting is better than ever.

The income is variable and I have not found a way to predict when the next sale is coming through.  I use Etsy, Facebook, BigCartel, Twitter and Instagram and have only recently started blogging again after the horrific on and offline stalking campaign which resulted in the stalker being put into prison, but that hasn’t stopped him.  I am still being watched, and it is still traumatic.

I was, up until four weeks ago – and like pretty much every working parent I know in the UK – receiving  Tax credits to top up my low income.  Then they stopped.  No letter, no reason.  One week I had money to pay bills with and feed my son, the next week, with no warning, it was gone.  After a morning on the telephone I discovered that I had been overpaid and they had stopped my entire regular income to pay themselves back.  No figures were given to me, no criteria, no in-depth explanation about where I had gone wrong and what I had done to deserve this brutal removal of my financial lifeline.

As a survivor of domestic abuse  I was further abused for six years via the family courts, and during this time, also stalked, constantly online and offline too, with numerous breaches of non molestation and restraining orders.  I have PTSD and chronic anxiety from this that had just started to vanish after a year of relative peace and self care.  The savage and incomprehensible removal of my Tax Credits immediately triggered my PTSD, reminded me of when I lost my job and went hungry while I was pregnant, and I am still down that difficult hole right now.

Just as I thought I had managed to begin to make a secure and stable life for my son at last, the government swept it away from under my feet with no comprehensible explanation.  I can only guess – because nobody can tell me – that ShoeDoodles has been misrepresented as a hobby in the minds of one or two civil servants who have little business knowledge and the power to destroy lives at the click of a button.

My creative spark was wiped out immediately as I fought to convince a stranger that my intentions were not to mess around with shoes as a hobby but to build a sustainable business that my son and I could run together for the rest of our lives.  I certainly would not put this much effort into a hobby!  In the past, web design was my hobby.  I went to university and ended up doing an MSc in Computing because f this “hobby”.  I have taught e-commerce and BTec Business.  I am still learning now, I have t be because the online world is constantly evolving.  I have now done all that I can do, and I can only sit here and  wait until someone who doesn’t know me or care about me and my amazing son makes the decision to keep us in poverty or restore us some dignity.

But I’m not looking for sympathy, not for me.  I’m a warrior and a survivor and I am using this tale to urge you to help others.  My story is very common – I found out this almost immediate.  Families have been left without money, immediately and with little recourse by civil servants following orders from the cruel British government.  The rise in food bank use tells our stories pretty well and I was lucky to be eligible for a voucher this week and received a very generous gift from them that will keep us from starving for way more than the three days it was intended.

Thank you Trussell Trust and to everyone who donates too.  The British media have done a great job also of demonising food bank users as drug addicts or people who cannot manage their money properly but I can assure you that this is not true.  Nobody I saw looked addicted and I know – and you do too now – that when you live on the breadline,  one click of a key in an office far away can destroy you, one emergency can destroy you.

They are only following orders….In Mein Kampf, Hitler stated “This art is the sick production of crazy people. Pity the people who are no longer able to control this sickness”.  Is my art and online business model misunderstood?  Is England a fascist state? I would like you to consider and question this, and the artificially created divisions that are apparent in the UK in 2017.

In this period of deep dark despair though, rays of sunshine  have broken through the heavy cloying, irritating smog that has filled my body and brain.  My son’s Godmother was the first stroke of luck , offering cash to help her out with some work, so we ate for another week. Vicky, Jo, Paul and my Dad, all helped make sure my direct debits didn’t bounce this month.  Linda sent me a ton of oat milk and other vegan goodies, and I don;t even know her! Aurora, Divita and Patsy all offered invaluable support and advice and pointed me towards places to go so that I can feed myself and my son.  Elaine listened and bought us a meal and took my mind off things that first impossible weekend.  Lowenna offered me space in The Pretty Pigsty.  Mum, who bakes us home fresh bread every week and gives us food treats. I am humbled by the help and generosity of all these people, some of whom are mainly “internet friends” and people who I know are struggling badly themselves.  One, is a complete stranger, only recently off the streets himself.

I’ve also become an ambassador for an amazing food sharing app that connects you with local people – I’ve met some lovely people already and had the good fortune to try home made pickles and home grown squash! It’s amazing!  If you haven’t already, download Olio and help to share food “waste”.

Maybe, I concluded, you have to have experienced true darkness yourself before you can find the light in your heart to help others without judgement or hidden agenda.  Or maybe you are just born with it.  I am blessed to have the ultimate in human kindness in my son (aka Funny Funky Doodles – he can design you a bag or some shoes as well).  At age seven, he emptied his purse and made me take all of his coins.  He told me “I don’t need classes Mum, all I need is love”.  With an angel like this in my life, the light will always be present.

His words are so perfect, I made them into a backpack bag (34*43cm).  This natural cotton bag is an unique one-off item and costs £30 including free waterproofing and UK postage.




all i need is love bag