We got an HMRC tax rebate out of the blue – what’s going on?

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Radharc Images/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Radharc Images/Alamy

I wish to bring to your attention what seems to me to be an income tax refund scam.

My daughter SW received a letter out of the blue from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) telling her that she was entitled to a tax refund of £60.40 and that a cheque had been sent to Ensign Advisory.

She has never heard of this company and was surprised to receive a cheque for just £8.66.

When she contacted HMRC to ask about the discrepancy between the cheque issued to Ensign and the payment, she was told that it had a signed document from her giving authority to the company to deal with her tax affairs.

My daughter SW categorically did not sign any such document, but HMRC will not provide a copy without going through a subject access request.

She has tried to contact Ensign but without success. The letter sent by the firm states it has sent an email that provides a breakdown of the “claim” but she has not received it.

The reviews on Trustpilot suggest there are many people who have had a similar experiences with this company.

IW, by email

This rebate was a surprise for SW not only because the resulting cheque was so pitiful but because she says she had not applied for it in the first place.

Ensign Advisory is an agent used by a company called Total Tax Claims. The latter says an online application for working from home tax relief was filled out by SW on its Totaltaxrefunds.co.uk website (you reach this site via clicking on ads on social media). It adds that the application was confirmed by email and text, although your daughter says she did not get them.

Whatever its origin, the payout was reduced as per Ensign’s fee structure which the terms and conditions on its website explain is a massive 36% of the refund issued by HMRC plus a flat administration fee of £30 on top. This resulted in a deduction of £51.71 with the balance of £8.66 sent to her.

The commission charged is obviously a shocker but that is not the issue here as your daughter insists she did not apply for a rebate given that she cannot do her job remotely. Ensign shared the documents relating to this claim with me. They appeared to be filled out and signed by SW. However SW says the digital signature is a fake.

In a statement lawyers acting for Total Tax Claims and Ensign Advisory said the allegation it was perpetrating a scam was completely untrue.

“Total Tax Claims and Ensign Advisory in all cases obtain full signed written contractual mandates to obtain tax rebates for their customers. Without specific information and instructions provided by the applicant, no claim for [a] rebate can be submitted to HMRC. All fees for carrying out the work are notified and agreed by customers during sign-up. To be clear, tax rebates cannot be generated by Total Tax Claims and Ensign Advisory without the receipt of an application which contains the unique information pertaining to the particular tax payer.

“Either the individual in question, or someone who was motivated to obtain a tax rebate on her behalf and who additionally possessed her confidential private information, provided us with a signed mandate to obtain a rebate. They also had agreed our terms including as to charges. This rebate was supplied to the individual, by cheque made out in her name, minus the deduction of the charges.

“We are unable to speculate who might have made the application other than the individual herself, when only she stood to receive the monies.”

This case shines a light on a problem area as HMRC received more than 2,000 complaints about rebate firms last year. The issues raised by consumers include the lack of transparency in agents’ processes for signing up clients and high commission charges, and following a consultation the law is being tightened up.

Remember you can make a tax rebate claim direct with HMRC via gov.uk; this is free and you will receive 100% of any refund. If you can show an agent has made an invalid claim on your behalf, you can report it using a form on its website.

SW tried this route but got nowhere as HMRC said it had a document signed by her giving Ensign permission to act on her behalf.

There are other negative reviews of Total Tax Claims and Ensign on Trustpilot however they counter that the number is small in the context of more than 300,000 customers. Maybe other readers have had a similar experience they’d like to tell us about?

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