20 January 2015
The Green Party has called on Lambeth Council to stop using bailiffs in cases where residents in receipt of Council Tax Support (CTS) fall into arrears.
In a speech to Lambeth Council's Cabinet, Green councillor Scott Ainslie called for an urgent review of the policy regarding those who receive CTS who get into difficulty following the council’s cuts.
Council Tax Support provides financial assistance to Council Tax payers on low incomes.
The policy of other London boroughs such as neighbouring Southwark, is not to send in bailiffs, or to levy excessive legal and court costs on those who receive CTS.
The Green Party's call came as the Cabinet met and unanimously decided to continue its cuts to Council Tax Support in Lambeth.
A new report published last year showed Lambeth Council is topping the league table in London for penalising those who fall into arrears as a result of cuts to council tax support. (2)
According to a report produced by two national charities, the Child Poverty Action Group and Zacchaeus 2000, in the first year of cutting council tax support Lambeth Council had:
· Issued summonses for arrears involving Council Tax Support to more people than any other council in London (8,933 summonses).
· Called in the bailiffs on those who claim Council Tax Support more than any other council in London (3,244 cases). Camden and Southwark had not referred a single case to bailiffs.
· Charged more court costs to Council Tax Support claimants than any other council in London, being the only council to have levied costs of more than £1 million on its poorest residents.
The report highlighted that a claiming household in Lambeth could have an annual bill of £197 which would skyrocket to £634 because of Lambeth’s policies, making it far less likely that the debt will ever be collected.
A follow up Freedom of Information request at the end of last year showed that there were still thousands of claimants falling behind on payments, receiving court summons and being charged costs. Although the number of cases being referred to bailiffs was down, it was still higher than most boroughs and in stark contrast to neighbouring Southwark’s policy of not using bailiffs for CTS cases.
Green councillor Scott Ainslie said: “The way Lambeth’s cuts to Council Tax Support are being implemented is putting an unbearable burden on those who can least afford it. It appears to be more punitive than any other London borough. The approach is also self-defeating. When low-income residents are already trying to find the money to pay for the council’s cuts to their support, the summonses and unnecessary court charges are pushing residents further into hardship, and making collection even more unlikely.
“The receipt of a court summons is an intimidating experience that can have a severe impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of someone in a vulnerable situation. Lambeth Council should reverse its cuts to Council Tax Support. It should minimise court costs as other boroughs have done and refrain from using bailiffs in Council Tax Support cases.”
(1) The minutes of the Cabinet meeting can be seen here: http://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/documents/g8961/Printed%20minutes%20Monday%2012-Jan-2015%2019.00%20Cabinet.pdf?T=1
(2) The report: A new poll tax? The impact of the abolition of council tax benefit in London, published by the Child Poverty Action Group and charity Zacchaeus 2000 can be seen here: http://www.cpag.org.uk/sites/default/files/A%20new%20poll%20tax_0.pdf