My letter arrived out of the blue in May 2015.
Until that moment I'd been oblivious to the existence of a company called Concentrix. The letter informed me that they work on behalf of HMRC and they had information that I had a partner living with me while claiming tax credits as a lone parent.
My initial reaction was confusion and then anger... had someone maliciously given false information about me to these people?
As I read further into the letter my initial confusion and anger was joined by panic. Concentrix were giving me 30 days to supply them with original copies of my bank statements for the past 12 months - along with 12 months worth of gas bills, electricity bills, telephone bills, council tax assessments, water bills and rent or mortgage statements - or my tax credit payments would cease.
But the real panic set in (not because I was doing anything fraudulent - I wasn't) when I decided to look up Concentrix and find out more about them...
"Concentrix Corporation - a global business services division of SYNNEX"... their glossy corporate website proudly boasts.
I confess that I still don't really understand exactly who/what they are - all I do know is that they're an American founded corporation who've set up offices in Belfast & London and have been awarded a multi-million pound contract to 'investigate' tax credit claims in the UK.
Their approach is to cast a gigantic trawling net and, using spurious claims of 'evidence' of wrong-doing, drag up lone parents, male or female, and force them to prove their innocence. I've since discovered that there are thousands and thousands of lone parents and low paid families being sent these accusatory letters and, while I fully accept that fraudsters should be caught, this whole process is beginning to resemble a witch-hunt. Under what other circumstances have innocent people been judged guilty of a crime and been tasked with proving their own innocence? How do you prove a negative anyway?
My fear's based on the fact that I have no confidence in these people. Concentrix isn't a government department but a private, profit-driven company and my most sensitive documents are being handled by employees of this company - not civil servants employed by the Government. I have visions of a newly-employed 18 year old sifting through my life and deciding my fate - and there's absolutely nothing I can do but comply.
I didn't expect or choose the life-changing event that resulted in my need to resort to tax credits but, when my circumstances changed, I thought it was right that I should carry on working, albeit on a low wage, rather than simply go onto income support. I was proud to work, felt I could hold my head up and that I wasn't being judged.....which leads me to what, for me, is the most upsetting part of this whole Concentrix fiasco and it's this....
The realisation that this Government does, and always will, see me as just another scrounger - someone to be treated with suspicion...and perhaps those opinion's are widely held in the general public too. This is something that didn't even occur to me before all this and I'm finding it difficult to deal with. Whatever the outcome for me personally with regard to the unfounded accusation, I'll always now feel a little ashamed while I'm in need of working tax credits.
That sense of pride and worth has gone, and rightly so, because it turns out it was as unfounded as the accusations made against me by Concentrix...I just didn't know it. I do now.