More than 450,000 people could already have received a court summons because they have fallen into arrears with their council tax payments following changes to the system, it was claimed.
Ministers have been criticised over a decision to reduce spending on council tax benefit by £500m a year from April. The Government has told local authorities to decide who should lose the cash. Critics have warned that unemployed and low-paid families will be heavily affected as benefits to the elderly are protected. They have predicted the move will increase numbers of people struggling with unmanageable debts and the threat of visits from the bailiff.
Freedom of Information (FoI) responses from 112 English town halls have disclosed that 156,500 people have received summonses as a result of changes to council tax benefit six months ago. They included 11,830 disabled people, 2,153 carers, 59 veterans and 54 war widows.
As the FoI responses came from about one-third of the country’s councils, the number of people in England falling behind with payments because they have lost benefit could be more than 450,000, the shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn said. He said those facing court action, and even the threat of jail, could include 65,000 disabled people and 12,000 carers.
“This new poll tax is a disaster of David Cameron’s own making,” he said. “The failure to identify the number of people affected or to monitor the costs is negligent and irresponsible.” Brandon Lewis, the Minister for Local Government, said: “This shoddy survey is contradicted by official statistics, which show arrears have fallen in the last year.
“In the last year of the Labour government, three million summons were issued for unpaid council tax. The Coalition has taken action to help hard-working families by freezing council tax for up to five years.”
About six million people have all their council tax paid or are given some money towards it. The average payment is almost £16 a week. The Resolution Foundation think-tank has calculated that 3.2 million of the poorest households will see increases to their council tax bills.