Get West London’s revelation that three of the councillors who attended the meeting to decide whether Ealing cut its local Council Tax Support scheme were themselves in Council Tax arrears at the time is deeply shocking. The council spokesman’s claim this wasn’t illegal may be true. However, I have no doubt the involvement of these councillors in that meeting will leave a bad taste in the mouth of those of the disabled people and single parents with very young children who have been hit by the increased charges it decided upon.
This is not the first time Ealing councillors have played fast and loose with the borough’s Council Tax Support scheme. The Cabinet’s original increase in charges to unemployed residents was done by the back door without any public consultation. And the meeting to decide upon these latest cuts was itself scheduled at very short notice after the Overview & Scrutiny Committee rejected the Lib Dem Group’s “call-in” of the Cabinet’s proposed increased charges. It was no great surprise either that the Mayor refused to allow a petition of hundreds of local residents to be presented at the meeting before councillors made up their mind.
Ealing has used smoke and mirrors to hide the real impact of its Council Tax Support scheme. For example, at the scrutiny committee hearing, the Cabinet Member responsible claimed the collection rate for CTS claimants is 80 per cent, when the real rate for working-age claimants who are actually hit by these cuts is much lower at 66 per cent. And Cabinet reports pointedly fail to disclose how many of those claimants have been summonsed to court or had bailiffs set on them. Z2K’s own FoI requests have finally revealed that Ealing sent bailiffs round to 881 of those households who couldn’t pay last year – plunging those people into a vicious cycle of unsustainable debt.
While Ealing council is ignoring the serious financial impact of its new Poll Tax on its poorest residents, other boroughs are doing things the right way. Earlier this year, nearby Hounslow decided against increasing its own charges after councillors realised the impact they would have on claimants who were already struggling, and Camden has just announced a consultation to scrap its own charges and reinstate 100 per cent Council Tax Support. The Lead Member there says he wants to concentrate that authority’s resources on those who can afford to pay Council Tax but aren’t. The contrast with Ealing, which froze Council Tax for all but its poorest residents is very stark indeed.
Z2K hopes that the difficulties these three councillors got into with their Council Tax bills will encourage them and their colleagues to take a closer look at how hard Ealing’s CTS scheme is on those who don’t enjoy the benefit of a £10,000 a year Members’ Allowance.