Council Tax protestors vow not to give up

News / Thu 16th Jan 2014 at 07:25pm

A SMALL BUT significant group of protestors continue to put pressure against Harlow Council regarding those who have not paid their council tax.

A spokesperson who calls himself Wat Tyler has made it clear that they will continue to lobby, petition and protest through 2014.

Wat Tyler said:

“It is a disgrace that Labour-ruled local authorities have chosen to inflict this benefit cut on the poorest householders in their communities. For they had a choice: 28% of councils in England absorbed the cut in central government funding for Council Tax relief, rather than pass it on to the jobless. In both Harrogate and Bristol, for example, working age householders without employment continue to pay zero Council Tax.

“In Harlow, the Labour-ruled Council has cut Council Tax relief for jobless householders by 24% for those with savings of less than £6,000. (Those with savings of between £6,000 and £16,000 have had their Council Tax relief cut by 100%).

Charging jobless householders Council Tax is a measure that affects five times as many people in Harlow as the Bedroom Tax.

There has been a 54% increase in the number of people forced to beg for food from Harlow Foodbank in the past year.
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%.

Of approximately 3,700 jobless householders in Harlow, 43% have defaulted on their Council Tax bills, and a third (1,119) have received court summonses for non-payment so far. There is no indication that these numbers will not increase.

Court cases are held on the first Tuesday of each month in Chelmsford (rather than Harlow) and most jobless householders in Harlow cannot afford the cost of travel to Chelmsford, thus they are unable to put their case. The granting of a Liability Order is a rubber-stamp exercise. On Tuesday, 3rd September 2013, Chelmsford Magistrates Court granted Harlow Council 437 Liability Orders against poor householders for non-payment of Council Tax. The first court case of the day began at Ten in the morning. If it is assumed both that the court sits until Five in the afternoon, and that it recesses for an hour for lunch, then a Liability Order was granted every 49.4 seconds that day.

Once Harlow Council has obtained a Liability Order, it then obtains an Attachment of Benefit, by means of which it steals £3.60 per week from the victim’s benefit payments. For the majority of benefit recipients this is less than the Council is demanding from them in Council Tax, so in the short term it pays to default and be taken to court. (In the long term, the overall total owed is £95 greater, thanks to court costs).

Harlow Council Leader Mark Wilkinson claimed in a written answer at a Council meeting on 12 December 2013 that the cost of taking a defaulter to court was £3.00. However, jobless householders who are taken to court for non-payment are charged £95 in court costs – so someone somewhere appears to be lying. Is Harlow Council actually imposing an illegitimate fine on jobless non-payers, under the guise of “court costs”?

Some jobless householders are not so “lucky”. Harlow’s “caring” Labour Council has sent in bailiffs to terrorise more than 200 jobless householders for the “crime” of being unable to pay Council Tax.

Harlow’s Labour Party took control of the Council from the Conservatives in the elections of May 2012. Cutting Council Tax relief to those without employment was not in its manifesto; thus the ruling Labour group has no mandate for this policy.

A few months ago Harlow Council held a public consultation on this issue Residents were asked: “Do you agree that Harlow Council
should retain its current scheme for the next financial year?” Thirty-eight per cent of respondents said “Yes” and 56 per cent said “No”. However, Harlow Council ignored the results of its own consultation.

At the meeting of the Full Council on 19 December the decision to continue Harlow Council’s punitive Localised Council Tax Support scheme into the next financial year was made “on the nod” without debate, without even a vote. The process by which the decision was taken was obscure, unaccountable, and undemocratic. Councillors had no mandate to cut Council Tax Support, the cut was rejected in the Council’s own public consultation, and the position of individual councillors on the issue was not recorded.
Harlow Council’s policy is a fundamental attack on the principle of progressive taxation: that those most able to pay should bear the greatest burden. It seems that the poorest householders in the town are being driven to penury in order to protect better off householders from an increase in council tax. Harlow’s Labour Council has crossed a line that even some Tories would refuse to cross.

Shame on Harlow’s Labour councillors (and those elsewhere) for supporting the war on the poor being waged by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government.

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