Brent Council are currently consulting on their proposed Council Tax Support Scheme for 2013/14. The council is proposing that their scheme effectively remains unchanged from this years, save for a minor addition to those exempt from the iniquitous Minimum Payment of 20%.
As we have explained previously Z2K is totally opposed to the abolition of Council Tax Benefit and the government’s 10% funding cut, but we also think that local authorities that have tried to make up this funding shortfall by introducing a minimum payment are simply heaping further misery on their poorest residents.
In Brent the minimum payment has led to over 3,500 residents who formerly paid no council tax at all being taken to court with threat of almost £100 in legal fees being added to their debt. In our experience these people aren’t refusing to pay but simply can’t. We believe this just the beginning and expect that many more will start to fall into arrears as rising energy and food prices make their budgets unmanageable.
We have explained why we think Brent should abolish their minimum payment and reintroduce 100% council tax benefit in our response to their consultation. If you agree with us please let Brent know by responding to the consultation too. You can see our model response here and find the consultation here.
Beyond the consultation we will continue to campaign in Brent and other London local authorities for the restoration of 100% council tax benefit. If you are interested in getting involved contact us here.
In the nine months from January to September our casework has exploded as the impact of welfare reform is felt by London’s poorest residents. The introduction of the Benefit Cap, the Bedroom Tax, the abolition of Council Tax Benefit as well as the ongoing impact of the LHA caps and the Work Capability Assessment have all meant many more Londoners are in need of our services. This has reflected itself in a big jump in the number of cases we take on. From January to September we had 1,035 new cases, compared to 717 in the whole of 2012. Continue reading
Now that the clocks have changed our thoughts turn to winter and any of you who is over 60 will soon receive your winter fuel payment. In fact, anyone born before January 1952 is entitled to claim the allowance.
Energy costs are very much in the news at the moment, and you may be very annoyed at the cost of your own heating bills. Imagine what it might be like to have to worry about these costs if you were living on Jobseekers Allowance of £71.00pw. Continue reading
In response to the largest shake-up of the UK benefits system, the charity Turn2us has launched a new, free and easy-to-use online Benefits Calculator. With nine out of ten people worried about the benefit changes and personal finances being increasingly stretched, the new Benefits Calculator is a vital tool to help more people access financial support they may be entitled to.
Despite 13 million people living in poverty in the UK, including 4 million children, awareness of the financial support available is low. Based on experience and feedback from service users the calculator helps individuals to find out what welfare benefits they are entitled to, how much they should receive and how to make a claim. The new tool, which is mobile-friendly, also estimates expected Universal Credit entitlement and how it compares to current benefit rates.
In addition to the new Benefits Calculator, the Turn2us website – www.turn2us.org.uk – includes a free Grants Search database and up to date information about benefits and managing money for people from all backgrounds to help maximise their income.
On Friday 18th October Z2K was present at Camberwell Magistrates Court to provide advice and advocacy for 4,500 Southwark residents who had been summonsed for non-payment of council tax. All of those summonsed had paid no council tax prior to the abolition of Council Tax Benefit in April 2013 but are now being asked to pay 15% of their liability under Southwark’s Council Tax Reduction scheme.
This issue was covered on BBC News and in the Guardian as well as elsewhere. Hundreds of people attended the court to with queues stretching out the door. Many of them were in a state of serious anxiety and some were visibly distressed by the threat of legal action. Continue reading
In a press release issued this morning the Labour Party reported that 112 councils have issued 156,000 court summonses since April 2013 to people who have to pay more council tax as a result of the abolition of council tax benefit. This means that up to 450,000 people may have been to taken to court because of council tax arrears accrued as a result of their reduced benefit. Continue reading
Z2K has made this submission to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry into ‘Support for Housing Costs in the Reformed Welfare System’.
Our submission covers the introduction of Direct Payments under Universal Credit, the LHA Caps, the overall Benefit Cap, the localisation of Council Tax Benefit and the Social Size Criteria (or ‘Bedroom Tax’). On the basis of our experience supporting people affected by these changes we call on the committee to make the following recommendations:
- Introducing a direct payments ‘opt out’ for vulnerable claimants.
- The phased abolition of the LHA caps and a return to rates being set at the median of local rents.
- Make additional DHP funding available in 2014/15 to help cover the shortfalls experienced by families who have been unable to move or find employment.
- DWP exempt homeless households in Temporary Accomodation from the Household Benefit Cap.
- A 10 per cent uplift in the cap applied to claimants in the London Boroughs in 2014/15.
- A moratorium on the implementation of the Social Sector Size Criteria
- A return to a national system of Council Tax Benefit.
Following on from our ‘Friends in Need’ film Z2K has produced a short documentary that looks at what it means to be poor in London and how Welfare Reform is changing our city.
Featuring interviews with Z2K clients and narrated by Z2K patron Sandi Toksvig the film explored the impact of a number of reforms, including the housing benefit caps and the overall benefit cap, as well as broader issues such as overcrowding, homelessness and unemployment.
Too often the media stigmatises and marginalises benefit claimants, in this film we allow them to tell their own story. We hope that you will listen and spread the message.
Last week the 30th British Social Attitudes Survey was published. This year the survey, which has been asking 3,000 UK citizens the same questions about their views on a number of issues since 1983, has seen a marked increase in support for state benefits across a number of questions.
Perhaps most importantly the view that benefits for unemployed people are ‘too high and discourage work’ fell from a high of 62 per cent in 2011 to 51 per cent in 2012, the biggest fall in thirty years. At the same time there has been a 5 per cent increase since the last survey in the number of people who believe that cutting benefits ‘would damage too many people’s lives’, with 47 per cent now holding this view. In addition, 34 per cent of people support more spending on benefits, even if it means higher taxes, up from 28 per cent in 2011.
What is interesting about these figures is that support for benefits has increased despite a continued campaign by both the media and the government to stigmatise claimants. As the Turn2Us report ‘Benefits Stigma in Britain’ found there has been a surge in negative media stories about benefits in the last 10 years, with 30 per cent of all benefit related articles now focusing on fraud.
When the government are challenged on their welfare reform agenda their response is invariably that the majority of people support their reforms, but this support is built on the basis of ignorance and perpetuated by a constant stream of misleading and incorrect media reports. For example a recent survey showed that the public think that £24 of every £100 of benefits is fraudulently claimed. While official figures show that just 70 pence in every £100 is fraudulent – so the public conception is out by a factor of 34.
That an increasing number of people support benefits despite this is hugely positive, however there is still a long way to go.