The Citizens’ Advice Bureau and Step Change Debt Charity say that council tax arrears are now the main reason people contact them for debt advice, overtaking credit cards and loans.
In the first three months of 2014, the CAB helped 27,000 people with council tax arrears. In 2013 Step Change helped over 45,000.
The rise in arrears follows the Government’s abolition of council tax benefit for working-age people in 2013. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated that some 2.4 million low-income households would have to pay.
In April 2014 the rules governing bailiffs were changed. Renamed Enforcement Agents, bailiffs became able to add £310 for sending a letter and visiting a property to accounts passed to them by local authorities. You can also be charged upwards of £150 for having court summons and a liability order issued against you.
Of the 19,000 summonses issued in 2013-2014, 6,000 were to households who had previously not paid the tax.
Many people now face a continual build-up of arrears while being threatened by bailiffs or having deductions taken from wages or from already severely cut welfare benefits. Many people fall behind year-on-year and become unable to pay other bills.
One council in Yorkshire has almost £20 million owed to it in council tax in the current financial year.
Council Tax is a regressive tax. Band A properties — anything from a houseboat, caravan, flat to a small terraced house — pay a third as much as the rich in the highest-valued (Band H) dwellings. The whole system should be scrapped and replaced by progressive taxation.
The movement against the bedroom tax has taken up the cases of thousands of people now under threat because of council tax arrears. Mass appearances at court hearings and direct action have helped to draw attention to the situation.
We should force Labour councils to stop mean debt-recovery measures and fight the cuts from central government.