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Untold stories of council tax arrears


Recently I had an odd occasion to visit an Advice Centre. What took me aback the sheer numbers of people at the centre seeking some sort of advice varying from how to obtain foodbanks vouchers, to Bedroom tax and council tax arrears which the list goes on. Whilst waiting in the queue a young person approached me asking for some small change to get a cuppa I began to ask myself the question has this country come to this people are starving and has turn to begging then I learnt that it seems to be a common trend not just locally but nationally. I’m now convinced this is the coalition so-called Big Society that they tried to promote at the beginning of their first term which it went by the wayside. I recalled Thatcher quote of the day during her premiership there is no such thing as a society. How many of you know of someone who works on zero hours contract or someone who is on a very low income and had to depend on benefits just to make up the difference only to witnessed their income being swallowed up by paying out council and bedroom taxes then have to put electric and gas into token meters then finding ways to put food on the table for the children and provide clothes and shoes for their children? This is just the tip of the iceberg then there are people have their benefit sanctioned for various reasons from Job Centre Plus. Some may believe that it is a good thing because you pay your taxes and you want to see results but do remember that some of the people who claim benefits were people who once worked and contributed their fair share of taxes and they are being tarnished with the same brush of being scroungers. Very intriguingly the outgoing Bank of England deputy governor Charlie Bean’s declaration that the central interest rate could soon rise from its 0.5 per cent record low to 3 per cent will come as grim reading for millions of indebted people across Britain. Mainstream economists argue that the concept that we are witnessing a “recovery” filled by new personal debt is flawed. They point to figures showing a slight reduction  in people’s unsecured borrowing credit cards and personal loan to suggest that there’s no repeat of the circumstances which fuelled the 2008 collapse of banking. But the economic statistics still reveal a continued heavy reliance on personal debt to make ends meet in our communities. It is suggested that over £800 million of new borrowing was taken out last Sept alone. As for henchman George Osborne and his clowns might trumpet the return of wager thin economic growth the latest evidence coming from Cab underlines that either way for ordinary people “recovery” is a pie in the sky. It again reports a big rise in a number of people turning to its advisers desperately struggling with cruel burden of welfare attacks in the so called austerity coupled by the prospect of an upward spiral in interest rates hitting us all between our legs from record low mortgages to credit cards threatens to plunge yet more lives into desperate misery. I will say to everybody we must be careful about hyping the prospects of continued failed “official recovery”. Between January and March 2014 Citizens Advice helped 27,000 people who had fallen into council tax arrears – a 17% increase on the same period in 2013. It comes after council tax benefit changes were introduced in April 2013. Local government minister Brandon Lewis said they formed a “vital part” of cutting the deficit. As part of the government’s welfare changes, council tax benefit was replaced by a council tax support scheme, run by local authorities instead of Whitehall. The government also cut the budget for the scheme by 10%, or £414m. It said the benefit had been costing taxpayers £4bn a year. Local authorities set up their own council tax support schemes using the reduced pot of money. The levels of support offered to people now varied “from one council to the next” and said council tax arrears were now “the number one debt problem” for people. It said one in five people who had reported debt problems to the charity in 2014 had a council tax arrears issue and that the number of people struggling with council tax payments had “rocketed” since the changes were made. The charity called for local councils to ensure council tax support schemes were focused on families and households who were “most in need”. “For some households council tax bills can be the tipping point that plunges them into debt,” Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice said. “Consumer debts like credit cards and personal loans have traditionally been the most common debt problems that come through our doors, but since the end of council tax benefit we’ve seen council tax arrears problems go through the roof. “As their budgets shrink local authorities are increasingly stretched, but they must ensure that the resources available for their local council tax support scheme are focused on those who are most in need.” However, local government minister Brandon Lewis said Downing Street had delivered an 11% real-terms cut to council tax bills. He said the latest official annual figures showed arrears were falling and that collection rates across the country now stood at 97.4% – up by almost 4% on last year. “Council tax benefit doubled under the last administration costing every household £180 a year so welfare reform is a vital part of reducing the inherited deficit. “Locally-designed council tax support gives councils stronger incentives to cut fraud and support people to get back into work,” he said. Citizens Advice said 42% of people who asked it for help between January and March with council tax arrears were employed, compared with 28% who were unemployed and 30% not working due to ill health, caring responsibilities or retirement. Earlier this year the debt charity StepChange said it had seen a 77% rise in the number of households needing advice on council tax arrears over the last year.

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2 responses to “Untold stories of council tax arrears

  1. Pingback: Untold stories of council tax arrears | SteveB'...

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