Out of pocket: working age people face a higher council tax bill. Photograph: NoHoDamon

Hackney Council sent bailiffs to more than 700 benefit claimants for missing council tax payments in the last financial year, it has been revealed.

The figures were laid out in a document released ahead of next Monday’s Living in Hackney scrutiny commission.

The council’s use of bailiffs to recover money from benefits claimants for council tax has reduced since 2013/14, when nearly 2,000 of these claimants were referred to enforcement agents.

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 offset this, many councils began asking for 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 send bailiffs to recover the costs.

To prevent benefits claimants from falling behind with their council tax payments, the council has introduced two pilot projects.

The Stop the Knock programme, run in conjunction with software company Agilisys, tries to make contact with council tax payers who have missed payments to try and arrange payment before bailiffs are sent.

Of the 483 cases referred to the programme, only 28 cases paid in full to the council or Agilisys, which meant their cases were not referred to bailiffs.

Over 400 cases were returned at the end of the project with no payment having been made or payment plan in place.

The council has also begun updating Council Tax recovery letters so they can be more easily read and understood using simplified language and different fonts and colours.

When asked in 2015 about the council’s use of bailiffs to recover council tax payments, 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.”

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