Vulnerable residents in Brent left with £250k court bill over Council Tax arrears
PUBLISHED: 12:25 12 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:25 12 March 2014
Brent Council have come under-fire for issuing court summons over council tax arrears which has left 2,000 vulnerable residents footing a hefty bill of more than £250,000.
Critics rue the action which left 2112 financially-strapped residents saddled with further debts due to court costs of £90 –which has amounted £253,440 by the end of October last year.
London charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust (Z2K) have lobbied alongside the Brent Housing Action for the council tax benefit to be fully reinstated has condemned the move.
Joanna Kennedy, chief executive of Z2K, said: “It is staggering that Brent is prepared to charge over two hundred and fifty thousand pounds in costs to some of their poorest residents.
Telling the Times that people affected can’t afford to pay the cost, she added: “The cost in many cases almost double the debt and all this achieves is pushing thousands of vulnerable households further into debt and despair.
“We will continue to campaign against it and call on the council to withdraw these costs charges and scrap this shameful tax on peoples benefits.”
Figures obtained by a freedom of information request also show 26 London authorities have charged claimants court costs totalling just under £6 million.
Bexley council is the only local authority which did not charge costs for summonses.
Protestors lobbied Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of the council, over his stance as he showed up outside Willesden Magistrates’ Court for the first hearings in early November last year.
This followed news that 3349 borough residents faced the wrath of the gavel over a backlog of council tax payments.
Since April last year, all residents of working age must make a contribution to their bills after the government abolished the benefit scheme and replaced it by putting the control in the hands of local authorities.
Brent Council claim the changes left them with a £6m black hole to plug which meant they had to rewrite the eligibility rules.
While pensioners are exempt, residents on low wages who would previously qualify for Council Tax Benefit entitlement would have to pay the tax.
Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of the council, said: “We have continued to exempt vulnerable groups including pensioners and disabled residents from paying Council Tax, but we need to ensure that we can continue to provide vital frontline services from providing homes for children in care to collecting bins throughout the borough.
“We want people who are struggling with Council Tax bills to contact us so we can come to a reasonable arrangement, taking into account their circumstances. If claimants engage with us we can work with them to resolve their situation.
“We only take residents to court as a last resort, and have made a special effort to contact benefit claimants who became liable to pay a proportion of their Council Tax for the first time this year.”