Council tax support changes set to hit the poor hardest

Waltham Forest Council, in its consultation on its Council Tax Support Scheme, is recommending working age people who currently claim Council Tax Support should pay at least 40% of their Council Tax Bill and those on certain disability benefits will have to pay 24%. Waltham Forest Trades Council and other poverty campaign groups are shocked that the Council have taken this approach in dealing with Central Government’s decision to cease specific funding to Councils to support Council Tax Support Schemes.

Dave Knight of Waltham Forest Trades Council said: “This consultation recommends a further burden on the poor low paid and unemployed people of Waltham Forest and has caused much anxiety amongst local benefit claimants. This unjustified attack on the poorest by a supposedly Labour Council passes the responsibility for meeting Government cuts on to those least able to afford it.”

The impact of these charges to local people reliant on benefits would be very severe. Most charges would be between £8.80 and £11.30 per week. For those needing to pay the higher £11.30 charge it would mean that £1 in £10 of a couple’s basic benefit or £1 in £7 for a single person would need to be found from the meagre benefits they receive. This would result in the poorest people in Waltham Forest facing court hearings for non-payment and possibly even losing their homes as their benefits cannot stretch far enough to meet these costs.

The administrative and legal costs to the Council of pursuing payment from those who already live in poverty and cannot afford to pay were not spelt out in the Consultation. Last year our Council issued 6,500 summonses almost 200 times as many as received a hardship fund payment. The consultation refers a lot to the hardship fund but does not mention a 13-page application form that is required to claim from that fund, nor that only 1 in 30 claims are currently found worthy of a payment.

Most boroughs charge 15% of the Council Tax bill or less and seven charge zero. They also have less harsh criteria for qualifying for Council Tax Support such as allowing higher savings. Other boroughs are moving away from minimum payments e.g. Camden is proposing a 0% minimum payment and we understand that Islington and Hackney may follow this path. Camden has done so after its analysis highlighted the low collection rate from working age benefit claimants and relatively high collection costs diverting resources from other activity.

Waltham Forest Trades Council believe that Waltham Forest’s poorest residents should not suffer further hardship and impoverishment in the wake of the national government’s decision to cease a specific contribution to the Council Tax Support Scheme. The Council already has one of the harshest Council Tax Support schemes for the working age poor in the whole of London and it is hard to understand why the Council appears intent on making it even harsher.

Waltham Forest Trades Council are opposed to any proposal to increase minimum Council Tax payments for the working age poor and have written to Waltham Forest Council to call on them to follow Camden Council’s lead and charge working age Council Tax Support recipients 0% Council Tax.

 

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