Hackney backs down on cuts to Council Tax Support

Disabled and unemployed residents in Hackney woke up to some slightly better news this week

Disabled and unemployed residents in Hackney woke up to some slightly better news this week, as Mayor Phil Glanville announced that his administration would be scaling back the cut in the Borough’s Council Tax Support scheme.  Instead of the 5 per cent cut originally proposed last autumn, he is now suggesting a 2 per cent cut.  This will still leave those out of work in Hackney having to pay up to 17 per cent of full Council Tax – around £200 a year depending on the property Band.  And we hope that, even at this late stage, councillors will drop the cut completely when they make their final decision next Wednesday (24th January).  But it is clearly better now than it was.

Perhaps more importantly, the Mayor is also instructing council officers to be much more proactive in identifying those suffering financial difficulty so they can be helped from Hackney’s Council Tax Hardship Fund.  Z2K would argue that anyone trying to live on £73 a week JSA is going to struggle with these new bills.  But we know that some will struggle more than others, and given Hackney’s past record of failing to allocate the funding, this too is an important and positive step.  For example, in 2016/17, it only made 39 awards – a total expenditure of under £3,000.  Many more people should be helped from now on.

This decision is a sign the Mayor and his team have listened to objections to their proposals, including from the 600 or so Hackney residents who supported Z2K’s own petition against them.  Many of those who signed the petition were CTRS claimants themselves already feeling the pinch from the current charges.  They were shocked when we told them about the proposed increase.  In fact, the almost complete absence of meaningful consultation with those directly affected was one of the most disappointing aspects of this whole process.  It really isn’t good enough simply to put out a press release and stick the consultation online.  Claimants should always be notified directly.

Some of those we spoke to also told us they had received a letter or even a visit from a bailiff after falling behind with their payments.  In Z2K’s view, it can never be right to use bailiffs against people on such low incomes.  The mere threat can be traumatising and force people to sign up to payment plans they can’t sustain, sending them into a spiral of problem debt to bailiffs or pay-day lenders it can be difficult to escape.  Anyone doubting the real impact should check out Monday’s excellent BBC Inside Out programme, which interviewed some of those facing bailiff visits.

Z2K and CPAG put this point directly to the Mayor in our meeting with him before Christmas.  He told us this will be looked at as part of Hackney’s forthcoming review of debt, advice and support, but said no at that stage to an end to bailiff use against CTRS claimants.  Yet neighbouring Islington has done just this, without any adverse effect on its collection rate.  We hope Mayor Glanville and his colleagues will think again and stop using bailiffs against Hackney’s disabled and unemployed residents before any increase in charges comes into effect.

We also hope the other Borough planning to cut Council Tax Support in April will also take heed of Hackney’s revised proposal.  Lambeth actually consulted on increasing its Minimum Payment from 16 per cent to 20, 25 or 30 per cent.  Z2K always suspected that the higher rates suggested were simply put in the consultation as a fig leaf for an increase to 20 per cent.  And sure enough, Lambeth’s Cabinet agreed to propose that figure when it met just before Christmas.  To be fair, they are also proposing a £400,000 Hardship Fund, but there is another sting in the tail with a big hike in charges for non-dependents.  Lambeth councillors meet on the same night as those in Hackney, so we will be doing what we can to persuade them to scale back their own cuts too.

In the meantime, we’d like to say a big public thank you to all those residents and politicians who opposed the original 5 per cent cut in Hackney.

See press coverage of the campaign here.

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