RIPPING open the HMRC-stamped envelope eagerly, Debbie Mountain was thrilled to see she was due a £237 marriage tax allowance refund.
But what Debbie didn't realise, is that she would end up keeping just £37 of this windfall after using a claims firm.
Claims firms are third party companies that offer to apply for tax rebates on your behalf.
These firms offer help in exchange for a big chunk of the cash that they have won back for you, plus admin fees on top in some cases.
But you can easily get the refund yourself for free by putting in a claim to HMRC yourself.
Debbie, 63, who works in customer services, used a claims firm called Total Tax Claims in December after she saw an advert posted on Facebook.
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The company said it could help couples get up to £1,250 back through a marriage tax allowance rebate.
This is a legitimate tax relief which lets married couples, as well as those in civil partnerships, share their personal tax allowances.
Around two million couples benefit from the tax relief – but thousands could be missing out.
If one half a couple doesn't earn enough to pay tax, the relief can slash hundreds off the other person's yearly tax bill.
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Couples can also backdate their claim for up to four years as long as you met the criteria.
"I was made redundant in September so money is very tight, and my husband has just been discharged from hospital with severe pneumonia," Debbie said.
"So I thought I’d give it a go, and filled out the form online."
Debbie, who lives in Lincolnshire, received a phone call from Total Tax Claims soon after.
She was told that a claim would be made on her behalf and that she'd hear back within 12 weeks.
Debbie got a letter from HMRC in March this year, telling her she was due £236.70 back – but the cheque would be sent to the third party company which logged the claim on her behalf.
Debbie said she was "absolutely mortified" when she then received an invoice from Total Tax Claims informing her it would take a 42% commission fee and a separate £100 admin fee.
She was left with just £37.29.
"I was gutted," Debbie said. "The amount they've charged is obscene.
"I know it's only a couple of hundred pounds we would have got back – but it would come in handy for us.
"I understood that I would have to pay for commission, but I didn't read the small print – I never thought it would be so high."
Total Tax Claims was contacted for comment.
How to avoid claims firms
Many of the firms that help claim for tax rebates aren't regulated.
That means there is no official system for complaints and you can't go to the Financial Ombudsman Service if things go wrong in the same way you now can for a claims management company.
Make sure you check HMRC's website before signing up to get a claims firm on board.
You'll be able to see which tax rebates you can apply for yourself without spending a penny – and you'll keep any money you're due for yourself.
How to claim marriage tax allowance for free
You can claim marriage allowance if all the following apply:
- you’re married or in a civil partnership
- you do not pay income tax or your income is below your personal allowance (usually £12,570)
- your partner pays income tax at the basic rate, which usually means their income is between £12,571 and £50,270 before they receive marriage allowance
You can backdate your claim to include any tax year since 5 April 2017 that you were eligible for marriage allowance.
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If both of you have no income other than your wages, then the person who earns the least should make the claim.
Apply online through the gov.uk's website.
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