10 August 2015
Green Party councillor Sian Berry is challenging Camden Council to reveal how many of Camden's poorest families have faced court summons and bailiff visits as a result of changes to the Council Tax benefit system.
A new report by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) shows that 4,747 households receiving council tax support in Camden have slipped into arrears this year, up from 4,360 reported to the charity last year.
The report also reveals how 12,000 claimants in London have faced bailiff visits and more than 71,000 were forced to pay costs for court summons. However, the figure for both is likely to be much higher as 13 Boroughs – including Camden – did not release the figures this year to the charity.
Camden had previously revealed that while no local residents had been referred to bailiffs last year, over 3,000 had been charged legal costs.
In March 2015, Cllr Berry refused to vote for the Council's budget and proposed a small Council Tax increase, partly so that claimants struggling with Council Tax benefit changes did not have to be charged legal costs.
She is now submitting a formal request for Camden to reveal the number of households referred to bailiffs and charged costs in the past year, to get a true picture of the anxiety and hardship caused.
“If we are driving our poorest people into impossible debt, then we have a serious problem. It's shocking that this year Camden has not released the details of the impact of its Council Tax policy on the poorest people, and appears to not even be monitoring the number of council tax support claimants being faced by court proceedings and bailiffs.
“I recognise that central government cuts have forced local authorities to make difficult spending decisions, but other Boroughs have shown there are more humane ways of dealing with the poorest individuals who just can't afford to pay. Stopping frightening people, many of whom are the most vulnerable in our society, with additional legal costs would be a good place to start.”
The system of Council Tax support for low income families was devolved from central government to local authorities in 2013. This change has led some Boroughs to levy a minimum Council Tax payment on people on low incomes who would not have had to pay before. While other Boroughs make exemptions for carers and people on disability living allowance, the charge in Camden is 8.5% without exception.