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Can you claim an IHS refund if your UK visa application is rejected?

My husband is a US citizen living in the UK. At the start of this year, he applied to UK Visas and Immigration for a new UK leave to remain visa, which would mean he could stay here for several more years. Unfortunately, it was denied.

As part of the application process, he paid a £2,054 fee under the Immigration Health Surcharge to cover future NHS care should he be successful.

The Government website says this should be refunded if the person’s visa application is turned down. However, my husband has never had the money back despite contacting UK Visas and Immigration, which is part of the Home Office, as well as the NHS for months.

We continue to try but there is no direct way of contacting anybody regarding a refund, so we are pushed around the houses and never seem to get anywhere. Can you help? L.K, Essex

IHS issue: L.K’s husband applied for a new UK visa but was turned down – and then the Home Office took months to refund a £2,054 sum he paid as part of the process

Helen Crane of This is Money replies: I am sorry to hear about this refund issue, which must have caused added stress on top of working out about where you and your husband will now live after his visa application for a longer stay was denied. 

The Government is notoriously tardy when it comes to refunding people’s money. Whether it is emergency pension taxes or a VAT refund on a self-built house, clawing back cash from the belly of the Government beast is an unenviable task. 

Waits of some degree are inevitable given the tidal wave of (now mostly digital) paperwork that flows into departments every day, but often people are left waiting far longer than the promised timescales.

It is irksome to those who always pay their taxes and other dues on time that they are not extended the same courtesy when the shoe is on the other foot.

So what is the IHS? It’s a fee which people applying for most types of UK visa need to pay to cover the cost of using the NHS while they are staying here. Most short-term tourists don’t need to worry about this. 

It costs £624 for each year of the visa’s duration for adults, and £470 for students or those under 18. Paying this fee is an unavoidable part of a visa application, and the whole sum must be paid upfront as you can’t complete the online form – or apply by post – without a IHS reference number.

However, the money will be refunded if the visa application is rejected, unless you are applying for indefinite leave to remain in the UK in which case you won’t get the money back.

CRANE ON THE CASE 

Our weekly column sees This is Money consumer expert Helen Crane tackle reader problems and shine the light on companies doing both good and bad.

Want her to investigate a problem, or do you want to praise a firm for going that extra mile? Get in touch:

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It seems like a silly system to me. Why not charge people once their applications have been accepted and do away with all this refund drama?

According to the Visas and Immigration Service, IHS refunds are ‘usually’ paid back within six weeks of a visa application being denied. But in your husband’s case, he has been waiting for more than four months and with no sign that the money is on its way.

You say there is no direct contact number within the Home Office for IHS refunds, so you are left to call various switchboards and are left waiting on hold. When you do get through you are simply told your refund is still being processed, but you are never told when it might land in your bank account.

It’s a classic example of annoying public service admin making our lives difficult, and I am not surprised that you got to the end of your tether and decided to contact me.

I spoke to the Home Office and asked it to tell me what the hold-up was.

It told me that the delay was due to an admin error which affected your husband’s  online account, but assured me it was a one-off issue and wasn’t affecting all applications.

You then emailed me within a few days to tell me that the £2,054 had finally dropped back into his account. 

But I have since heard from another reader who says they are having the same problem with a delayed IHS repayment. I’d be interested to hear whether this has happened to other people, too.

Get in touch: [email protected]

I want to book my wine tasting- but can’t reach Red Letter Days 

I was given a gift voucher before the pandemic by my son and his partner. 

It was for a for a wine-tasting, lunch and tour of a vineyard and I was really looking forward to enjoying a lovely day out – but then lockdown came along and I realised later that the voucher had almost expired. 

I called Red Letter Days, the voucher company, and paid to extend the expiry date until May 2023.

Grape expectations: Reader E.D was looking forward to booking a wine tasting session- but it proved harder than expected due to Red Letter Days' online-only customer service

Grape expectations: Reader E.D was looking forward to booking a wine tasting session- but it proved harder than expected due to Red Letter Days’ online-only customer service

I recently tried to book the lunch, but since I last contacted them it appears that Red Letter Days no longer do telephone enquiries and will only deal with customers online. 

When I try to book the lunch via the Red Letter Days website, it says my account isn’t recognised and I can’t redeem my voucher. 

How on earth can I book as no one is available to help me? E.D, North London

I am not surprised you are wine-ing about Red Letter Days’ service. 

It’s so frustrating when companies won’t pick up the phone to their customers, especially as issues are often sorted much faster that way – so long as you aren’t left on hold for hours, that is. 

I was astonished to hear that the voucher firm had closed its customer phone lines altogether. Often firms will bury their telephone contact numbers in a dark corner of their website, hoping that people will give up looking. 

But when I checked Red Letter Days’ website I couldn’t find one anywhere. In fact, it said the only way to get in touch was via a live chat, or if a query is ‘less urgent’ a contact form – to which the team will ‘endeavour’ to get back within five working days. 

By that point customers trying to sort out a problem will surely be seeing red.

I contacted Red Letter Days to ask why you couldn’t book your wine tasting. As the initial voucher was booked several years ago, your account was no longer working. 

But the team sent you a new link to access your voucher online, and you are now able to book with the vineyard. You have told me you are going with your sister and are trying to decide on a date. 

I hope you have a fantastic day out. 

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