Bromley sends in the bailiffs as residents are left unable to pay council tax
PUBLISHED: 13:23 01 September 2016 | UPDATED: 17:27 01 September 2016
A report claims the use of bailiffs has surged since the localisation of council tax support
Bromley Council has referred more than 2,000 of its poorest residents to bailiffs following an increase in minimum council tax charges, according to new figures.
A report by the Child Poverty Action Group reveals the borough issued court summons and charged costs to 3,538 residents, and sent in the bailiffs on 2,325 occasions, in 2015-16.
The referrals follow changes to the system that allowed councils to introduce minimum payment charges - yet some London boroughs do not use bailiffs at all.
The report, Still Too Poor to Pay, reveals more than 19,000 low income, sick and disabled Londoners were referred to bailiffs in 2015 - a 51 per cent increase on the previous year.
Council tax arrears have risen since the localisation of council tax support to London boroughs in 2013, and the capital has seen a 45 per cent hike in the use of bailiffs to chase down the debts from the capital’s poorest households.
Before the changes, council tax benefit covered claimants’ council tax bills in full, but under the new scheme councils are free to set a minimum payment from claimants of between five and 30 per cent.
Bromley started charging 8.5 per cent to council tax support claimants in 2013-14, but this has gone up to 25 per cent in 2016-17.
Although a £100,000 hardship fund was set up by the borough to help the most vulnerable, it has so far spent only £6,952 of this amount on 32 successful applications.
The report points out that bailiff fees are added to a claimant’s council tax arrears, inflating the debt and making it harder for households to repay.
It calls on central government to reinstate council tax support as a national benefit, providing up to 100 per cent support for people not in work.
It also recommends that if the benefit remains localised, London boroughs should reinstate 100 per cent support for their poorest residents.
Chief executive of the Z2K charity Joanna Kennedy said: “Over the past three years the amount of council tax charged to Bromley’s poorest residents has more than doubled, far outstripping the increases levied on wealthier households – how can this be fair?
“The result is plain to see as over four thousand claimants find themselves behind with their council tax payments and more than two thousand have been placed at the tender mercies of bailiffs.
“Other boroughs in London manage not to use bailiffs at all, better still six London boroughs don’t charge any council tax to their poorest residents. If these boroughs can manage it why can’t Bromley?”
Angela Wilkins, leader of the Labour group on Bromley Council, commented: “It was pretty obvious that changes in the benefits system were going to cause financial problems for a number of people, so sadly these figures are not a surprise.
“Labour councillors in Bromley opposed the Tories’ proposal to increase the share of council tax that less-well-off residents had to pay both this year and last year, but we were outvoted.
“Even after this decision, there are three issues here that are of major concern:
“Firstly, why is so little of what money is available being paid out? Secondly, where is the sense in adding what can be ridiculously high bailiffs’ charges to debts that people clearly can’t pay in the first place. The first - and sometimes only - people to gain from this are the bailiffs.
“Thirdly, what are the costs to families - and to the council for that matter - when people are evicted and lose their homes because they can’t pay?
“I know one local resident whose original debt was £2000. He now owes more than £50,000 - because of legal and bailiffs fees. He is likely to be evicted, to lose his home and to have to then be housed in expensive and inadequate temporary accommodation. It makes no sense.”
Bromley Council has been approached for comment.
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