Under the current system, people on low or no incomes have up to 100% of their council tax paid by their local council through Council Tax benefit.
However, in just five weeks time, at the beginning of April, the current council tax benefit scheme will be scrapped. Instead, local authorities are being made to to introduce local council tax support schemes – and the government has cut the money available for these schemes by 10% or £500m. Because the government has promised that no pensioners will affected, the effect on people of working age, including not only unemployed and disabled people but working families on low wages, will be disproportionately higher. The researchers at False Economy have discovered that the overwhelming majority of councils – 82% – plan to reduce support for low income households by an average of 20 per cent in order to cope with central government cuts. This means that the poorest families in the country will, after April, have to find an extra £247 a year, or nearly £5 a week, at the same time that the iniquitous bedroom tax is introduced and child benefit frozen.
The fact is of course, that many people will simply be unable to pay. Local authorities have conceded that up to 84% of people on low incomes will refuse to pay council tax after being caught in the net by benefit changes this April, and admit there is little they can do about it.
In Harlow, the local authority expects to collect council tax from just 800 of the 5,000 poor households supposed to be paying it for the first time this year. In Gravesham in Kent, the council estimates 70% of the proposed tax will not be paid. Overall, False Economy figures show that on average councils are budgeting for a third of residents not paying the new charge.
However, with average bills running at under £5 a week it will prove uneconomic for many councils to try to enforce collection of the tax – although the Tory Mayor of North Tyneside is planning to try to deduct tax directly from benefits.
So the Tories may well have created a perfect political storm, with local authorities facing severe administrative difficulties, while the new tax, combined with the bedroom tax and all the the other welfare cuts being quietly being slipped in through the back door over the next few months, will be a hammer blow to millions of people either out of work or on low incomes, particularly as most people’s wages are also falling in real terms.
What is frightening many local authorities is that swingeing cuts to council tax support could lead to levels of non-payment similar to that which happened under the poll tax, with huge amounts of local authority money spent chasing council tax payments through the courts from people with no hope of ever being able to pay up.
Its vital that we help make that nightmare come true for the government. We must be demanding of Labour councils that they make a public commitment not to pursue people who have up until now been exempt from council tax through the courts, as apart from the inhumanity of it it is likely to lead to even greater financial losses by councils. We must demand that our councils start to stand up to the Tories.
That start may have been made. Earlier this week an emergency meeting of Brighton Green Party resolved by by an overwhelming majority (including Caroline Lucas MP) to:
- Publicly condemn the ‘Bedroom Tax’ as an ideologically-driven attack on the least well-off in our society.
- Request that the Convenor of the Green Group makes a clear public statement that no household will be evicted from a Brighton and Hove City Council owned home as a result of rent arrears accrued solely as a result of this cut to Housing Benefit.
- Request that the Chair of the council’s Housing Committee instructs officers accordingly.
- Publicise this position, externally and in our own publications and websites
This is an excellent lead from Brighton Greens (or it will be if the Green Group on the council abides by the democratic will of the party) which should be followed up in areas with Labour councils – and extended to refusing to chase poor people for money they just don’t have for council tax.
Instead of trying to squeeze blood out of stones for the Tories, Labour and Green (and Plaid) should be throwing the bloody stones at them.
The Captain will be out of action for the next week, so just talk quietly among yourselves for a bit. Oh, and start squeezing blood out of Tories!