Tax Credits – Cultural Differences Matter and One Size Does Not Fit All

When it comes to official decision-making one size does not fit all and account must be taken of different ways of life in a multicultural society. The Upper Tribunal (UT) made that point in the case of a Muslim woman who said that she had for years portrayed herself as happily married so as not to bring shame on her family.

The woman was married to her first cousin, from whom she had not been separated by court order. HMRC rejected her claim that they had in fact been apart since 2009 and ruled that she was not entitled to receive tax credits as a single person. That decision was subsequently upheld by the First-tier Tribunal (FTT).

In ruling on her challenge to the latter decision, the UT noted that the husband had keys to her home and that he kept his belongings there. They had a joint bank account and the husband’s mail was delivered to her property, which also appeared as his address on the electoral roll.

In upholding her appeal, however, the UT found that the FTT had failed to give full and proper consideration to the cultural dimension of her case. She explained that her and her husband’s families were so interconnected – he was both her mother’s nephew and son-in-law – that the pressure to maintain a pretence of a happy marriage was intense.

In her culture, the shame associated with separation meant that it was commonplace for the mask of marriage to hide a very different reality. There were also potential contra-indicators to a subsisting marriage – including the absence of any financial contributions from the husband to the wife and that she no longer wore a wedding ring. The case was sent back to a differently constituted FTT for rehearing in the light of the UT’s decision.