Oh the irony. Having just had a baby, I’ve finally got round to filling out the claim form for child benefit, the same day we receive our first correctly adjusted and reduced payment (for two children instead of three) following Abi’s death 14 months ago.
Dealing with the Child Benefit department at HM Revenue and Customs has perhaps been one of the most upsetting things we’ve had to do since Abi died.
Having received her death certificate (oh how hard that was!), there were a number of practical admin type things we had to change: direct debits to clubs, savings accounts… and child benefit.
The department requires you to inform them of your child’s death within two weeks. There is no special area or team that deals with child death, all calls get put through to a call centre. Why it can’t be confirmed automatically from the Births, Deaths and Marriages system I don’t know (when we registered my baby they had all his birth info from the hospital on their system and even gave us his library card at the same time!).
I had dealt with all other tasks but I found this one just too hard to do. So, my husband, being more used to dealing with these departments, called them and told me that they had recorded the death and we should expect payments to continue at the same rate for a short while before they change (that is, they reduce the amount by removing the payment we receive for Abi). Child benefit is an important addition to our income and was even more so while our expenses were funeral related and our income reduced because I had to stop working.
Anyway, time slipped by and we were busy with Abi’s memorial and adjusting to our new life, and well, of course, grieving, so it wasn’t until about six months later that I noticed that we were still receiving Child Benefit at the higher rate. My husband called them again to inform them and check if it was correct. This time, however, he was told that the change wouldn’t have gone through because the account was in my name (their procedure not to have it in joint names) and so they needed to talk to me, the account holder/mother. I couldn’t understand the inflexibility of this process; just after the death of my child I couldn’t face talking to them and they seemed to have accepted my husband’s notification fine at the time, so why on earth didn’t they contact us to tell us this before?
So, I then had to pluck up the courage to call them. I don’t know why this was so upsetting, perhaps because it was so matter of fact, so cold and was another way of scrubbing out my daughter’s existence.
I spoke to someone through sobs – as I had to relay the whole story again – who was apologetic having heard my account of things, and said the payments should have ended within two months of Abi’s death, not six. I explained that we’d done everything by the book so it was their error, we never received anything in writing at any time, and of course we’d had other things on our minds to notice. He said he’d pass it up to a more senior level. I assumed that would be it, that due to the distress caused they would wipe it off.
Ah, but that would be to assume this department knew how to deal with the bereaved… they don’t.
Two weeks later, I received a demand by post for over £300 which we owed them in overpayment. There was no apology, no sympathy, no gentle approach, just a standard letter. I felt like a criminal (as though we’d tried to get away with keeping the money), and I felt sick at their insensitivity. It was as though Abi’s death, indeed her entire life, didn’t matter.
I put the letter down and ignored it. Let them chase me for it. This wasn’t about the money, although of course I didn’t have £300 to spare, but I wasn’t about to send it just like that when they took so long to sort this out and couldn’t be bothered to apologise to us for the distress caused.
Two months later, I received another standard letter to say that, as they’d not heard from me, they were stopping our Child Benefit payments completely for two and a half months, as a way to recover the money. Cheers! To be honest, I was just glad they were dealing with it without me having to do anything, but then why couldn’t have someone just called to apologise and talk through the options…been human?
So it was that just after my baby was born we received our first payment, which was for two children. My second child was now ‘elevated’ to the status of oldest child; payment is a bit higher for the first child – which of course she isn’t, but that’s an unavoidable factor, though a bit of care wouldn’t go amiss as they ‘kindly’ informed me in black and white in another standard letter just to remind me!
You couldn’t make up the insensitivity, and what’s worse is that I can’t be the only one this has happened to.
So now I’ve posted off my form to claim for my baby, putting my child quota back up to three children. Let’s hope they get it right this time!