News / 21 August, 2015

Bailiffs come knocking for 1,000 residents to recover council tax

Report finds that thousands in Hackney can’t afford council tax payments

empty wallet large

Many families have nothing left to pay for council tax, charities say. Photograph: NoHoDamon 

Hackney Council sent bailiffs to more than 1,000 benefit claimants for missing council tax payments last year, new figures have revealed.

Over 9,000 recipients of Council Tax Support – a benefit reducing the amount of council tax that people on low incomes are liable for – fell behind with their council tax payments during the past year, of which 1,115 were referred to bailiffs.

The figures were laid out in a new report by Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) and Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG).

Alison Garnham, chief executive of CPAG, said: “Families are saying their budgets just won’t stretch to cover the tax. Worse, many are facing court costs piled on top of a debt they couldn’t meet in the first place.

“This research shows that Londoners previously deemed too poor to pay are taking the hit as a result of council tax localisations.”

In the past central government administered the Council Tax Support benefit. But in 2013 the responsibility was devolved to local authorities, and the budget was cut by 10 per cent.

To plug the gap, many councils began demanding minimum payments from working age residents who had previously been deemed too poor to pay. Hackney now requires all residents, regardless of income, to pay at least 15 per cent of their council tax bill.

If a resident on Council Tax Support fails to pay, the council can issue a court summons and deploy bailiffs to recover the costs.

Joanna Kennedy, Chief Executive of Z2K, called it “perverse” that local authorities should charge council tax to anyone on low income. She said: “Although it may not seem much to some people, those families we support simply can’t afford the £5 or £10 a week these councils are charging.

“The end result is either cutting down on essentials and going hungry or fail to pay and risk having an aggressive bailiff knocking on your door. That’s not a choice any family should face.”

A Hackney Council spokesperson said: “The council does not take the decision to use Enforcement Agents lightly. The council will have contacted non-payers a number of times to try to avoid court action. As a minimum, the customer will have received a bill, at least one reminder notice and a final notice before the council sends a summons.”

Yasmin Alam is chief executive of East End Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), which represents Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets branches. She said enquiries at Hackney CAB about council tax arrears have increased by 12 per cent since last year. “In our experience, Hackney Council is happy to discuss repayment plans and other ways for people to repay their debts even at enforcement stage, when bailiffs have been called out.”

But she added: “We’d like to see the council agreeing more repayment arrangements before enforcement action is taken wherever possible. To give the best chance of this, we encourage anyone experiencing difficulties in paying their council tax to seek help and advice as soon as possible.”

Independent advice and information is available to local residents at Hackney CAB (300 Mare Street, London E8 1HE. 020 8525 6350).

/ 21 August, 2015
  • Syd

    The following information should be distributed to all council staff in recovery who I would suspect are inundated with customer queries about what they should do when pursued by the Council’s enforcement contractors adding hundreds of pounds in fees to their council tax bills:

    There is information to satisfy beyond reasonable doubt that the authority does not raise enforcement fees on the debtors council tax account. Therefore, despite what provisions are made in the Taking Control of Goods (fees) Regulations 2014, it would be unlawful if monies paid to the council intended to reduce the indebtedness of the council tax liability, was diverted to its enforcement agent. The same goes for monies paid directly into the account by means of internet banking etc.

    The council should therefore publish on its website that a debtor can avoid all Enforcement fees, even after their case has been assigned to its enforcement contractor by paying their outstanding liability directly to the council expressing that payment is made for the purposes of reducing the indebtedness of their council tax liability.

    A note of caution should also be added that under no circumstances should the debtor engage with the bailiff and any goods such as motor vehicles be kept out of the bailiff’s reach (so he is unable to ‘take control’ of them) until such time as the liability is settled.

  • Titus Groan

    It is worth pointing out that the Council Tax Support Scheme is administered locally by individual Local Authorities. Hackney charge people on low incomes or benefits a whopping 15% whereas neighbouring Islington charge a more modest 8.5%. In fact, of the 326 English local authorities, 82 do not charge people who previously qualified for full Council Tax Benefit anything at all – zero %. This begs the question as to why Hackney Council – not the government – are choosing to penalise the poorest in the borough?

  • Syd

    Good point TitusGroan.

    North East Lincolnshire Council have increased to 25% (originally 8.5%).

  • Titus Groan

    Further to the interesting point made by Syd, if you go to North East Lincolnshire Coincil’s website page for Council Tax and then click on the link ‘Council Tax Reduction Scheme’ you get a ‘Page Not Found’ message. Is that a deliberate ruse, one must ask oneself…?

  • The reality is that Hackney Council are persistently far too trigger happy, far far too early in the yearly council tax cycle, with their excessively intimidating gangster threats and so called “court costs”.

    Rather than mimicking the tactics of gangster racketeers and thugs, and rather than adding to the stresses and insecurities of its poorest residents, shouldn’t Hackney Council instead be actively and constructively making every effort to assist and minimise the woes of it’s citizens.

    Active Human Compassion, rather than cold automated intimidation, is the way forward in the 21st Century.


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