Nearly 1,000 Harlow residents in court over failing to pay council tax claims pressure group

wattylerNEARLY 1,000 people who previously did not have to pay council tax have been called to court for failing to meet their bills.

The government scrapped the national council tax benefit scheme in April.

A campaign group calling itself the Harlow Council Tax Rebels say some people cannot afford to pay the amounts now requested reports the BBC.

The Labour-led Harlow District Council said the changes had to be carried out and were being done “compassionately”.

Council tax benefit was replaced by local support schemes, where the amount of council tax previous non-payers contribute varies by area.

In Harlow, residents who previously avoided council tax now have to pay 24% of the full amount.

One of the rebels, calling himself Wat Tyler after the leader of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt in England, has been taken to court and had the amount he was told to pay reduced from £4.17 a week to £3.60.

“You just have to cross your fingers and hope you will get through the year really,” he said.

“When you are on a very low income you just try and juggle from week to week, and you basically just hope.”

Across Harlow, 918 of the 5,500 affected by the benefit changes have been summonsed to court in the past five months.

Mike Danvers, who stepped down from his position on the council’s cabinet because of the changes, said: “It affects the poorest people within our society and they just cannot pay this amount of money.”

But Tony Durcan, the council’s cabinet member for resources, said: “It is regrettable, but this decision has to be carried out.”

In deciding how much council tax those affected should pay, he said, the council had tried to act with “compassion”.

He added involving the courts had actually helped “both sides” involved in setting an amount the non-payers should contribute because it was “independent”.

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One Response to "Nearly 1,000 Harlow residents in court over failing to pay council tax claims pressure group"

  1. anon   November 16, 2013 at 4:34 pm

    1. Our group is called Harlow Council Tax BENEFIT Rebels. BBC Essex consistently gets the name wrong. We are not rebelling against Council Tax as such. We believe that all who can afford to pay it should pay it. We are rebelling against a cut in benefit for those without a job.

    2. The situation is worse than your figures indicate, as you have conflated householders on low wages (who receive a proportion of Council Tax Support), and those who are jobless (who receive maximum Council Tax Support).

    There were 3,754 householders in receipt of maximum Council Tax Support (and therefore jobless) on 15 October. Of these, 913 [not 918, as BBC Essex erroneously reported] have received court summonses for non-payment of council tax – 24%. That court action has been taken against 24% of jobless householders for non-payment of Council Tax would be seen by most people as a shocking indictment of the current scheme. Given that, as of 15 October, 1,232 jobless householders (approximately one third) had defaulted on their Council Tax bills, it is likely that many more jobless householders will taken to court.

    Your publication would be aware of these figures if your staff had read the two Press Releases and the two Freedom of Information responses that I sent you.

    3. Tony Durcan demonstrated his ignorance when he stated that involving the courts had actually helped “both sides” involved in setting an amount the non-payers should contribute because it was “independent”. The court does NOT “set an amount”.

    The granting of a Liability Order by the Magistrates Court is a rubber-stamp exercise. On 3 September Chelmsford Magistrates Court granted Harlow Council 437 Liability Orders. That is one every 49.4 seconds!

    Once a Liability Order has been issued against a jobless householder the Council writes to that person, informing them of the fact that it has been issued and enclosing a Council Tax Request For Information Form. This form is a statement of financial circumstances. Those to whom the form has been sent are legally required to fill in Part B. It has to be returned within 14 days.

    There is a box on the form entitled “Offer to clear debt”. If someone writes an amount in the box less than that which Harlow Council is demanding, then Harlow Council applies for an Attachment of Benefit order. These are or for a STANDARD AMOUNT: £3.60 per week.

    Tony Durcan, as Harlow Council’s Cabinet member for Resources, is responsible for the administration of the Localised Council Tax Support Scheme, yet he is ignorant of the consequences of this scheme, and unashamedly parades his ignorance on BBC Essex radio. Should ignorant Harlow Councillors such as Durcan be allowed to decide the fate of thousands?

    4. The maximum level of deduction from benefit is set at £3.60 by law, yet Harlow Council demands more than this.

    Jobseekers Allowance is £56.80 per week for those under 25, and £71.70 per week for those over 25. Single householders under 25 on Jobseekers Allowance living in Band A homes in Harlow are expected to pay £3.58 per week, and those living in Band C homes are expected to pay £4.77 per week. In other words, Harlow Council is demanding between 6.3% and 8.4% of the weekly benefit of young single unemployed householders. For single unemployed householders over the age of 25 living in Band A, B, or C accommodation in Harlow, the loss of benefit is between 5.0% and 6.6%.

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    Wat Tyler

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