HMRC have updated their figures concerning the Marriage Allowance. They originally said that, in the last tax year, three million married couples and civil partners were claiming the tax allowance, with one million more eligible. The recently revised numbers show that this off track by around one million.

What are the real figures saying?

The new figures show that less than two million couples claimed their Marriage Allowance entitlement. HMRC explains this mistake, saying: “The original estimates included multiple counts for those individuals making backdated claims for previous years as well as claims for that year.”

So when couples have made an initial claim for their Marriage Allowance, they have been able to include prior tax years that they’ve missed out on. HMRC have doubled up their figures to include all these backdated years, when they were specifically providing statistics about the 2018-19 tax year only.

What difference does this make?

A mistake like this does shake general confidence in the information provided by HMRC. It perhaps leads people to question the validity of other published statistics.

Or maybe the fact that HMRC publicly correct their mistake actually boosts confidence in their reliability.

In terms of the Marriage Allowance, it means that there was a much less successful uptake than previously advertised. HMRC were seeing it as a really positive example of a tax allowance that is being widely used by taxpayers.

Unfortunately, it turns out that this is not the case. This means that HMRC may have to invest more heavily in advertising the tax break to make sure that couples don’t miss out on their entitlement.

As Steve Webb, Royal London’s director of policy, told Money Marketing: “It is shocking that HMRC have got these figures so badly wrong. This time last year, ministers were boasting that three million couples were benefiting from this tax break. Now it turns out that fewer than two million are actual getting help, and that more than half of those who are entitled are missing out. HMRC urgently needs to do more to alert families who could benefit so that everyone who is entitled to help receives it.”

Can I claim the Marriage Allowance?

You can claim the Marriage Allowance if you are in a marriage or civil partnership where one person does not earn above the Personal Allowance and the other person does. If you are the person not earning enough to pay tax, you are transferring some of your Personal Allowance to your wife, husband or civil partner.

As HMRC put it, “Marriage Allowance lets you transfer £1,250 of your Personal Allowance to your husband, wife or civil partner – if they earn more than you. This reduces their tax by up to £250 in the tax year.”

Your Marriage Allowance claim can be backdated to the 2015-16 tax year, if all your circumstances comply.