Marc Francis, Policy Director
Our research with CPAG on the impact of the “localisation” of Council Tax Benefit over the past five years has consistently identified Haringey as having one of the worst local Council Tax Reduction Schemes (CTRS) in London. While disabled people are exempt, other working-age households are required to pay a 19.8 per cent Minimum Payment – around £250 a year from their Job Seekers Allowance or Income Support. In 2015/16, over 6,000 CTRS claimants were in arrears and the authority served a court summons on nearly 5,000 of those. Worse still, it then instructed bailiffs against 949 of those claimants. It refused to tell how many were affected in 2016/17 or 2017/18.
That’s why we were delighted to see the new Leadership in Haringey this week formally propose reinstating 100 per cent Council Tax Support for its poorest families. The cost of this change is estimated at £1.6 million a year – a significant sum when considering the ongoing cuts to local government funding. And yet the recommendation is unequivocal. In fact, the report seeking authorisation to begin a public consultation on this proposal pulls no punches whatsoever. In his summary of the reasons for this change, Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Patrick Berryman, says:
“The decision in 2013 by the Coalition Government to abolish Council Tax Benefit heaped a new hardship on many of the lowest income households in Haringey …. As councillors it is our duty not just to take account of the realities we as a council face but also the situation our residents find themselves in, offering support where we can and taking account of the social impact of all we do.”
Zacchaeus 2000 agrees. While nine Boroughs did decide against requiring disabled and unemployed residents to make a Minimum Payment towards their Council Tax, the other two-thirds did – including 14 of the 15 Labour-controlled Boroughs at that time. There have been some changes since then, most notably Camden scrapping its 8.5 per cent charge.
Despite the evidence of the problems its 19.8 per cent charge was causing claimants, the former leadership in Haringey did nothing to mitigate it. This report is clearly a swipe at them, as well as the Coalition Government. But is also an implicit criticism of those other Labour-led Boroughs that introduced charges too.
Of course, this is only one step in the right direction. Families will be exempt from next April, but childless households on JSA will continue to be charged. However, the strength of condemnation of Haringey’s charges gives a lot of confidence they too will have 100 per cent support reinstated in the next year or so. And with Zacchaeus 2000’s founder and local campaigner, Rev Paul Nicolson, on councillors’ backs, there is even a chance Cllr Berryman and his Cabinet colleagues will ignore the £800,000 price tag and agree to make jobseekers exempt next April as well. In the meantime, Paul is rightly pressing Cllr Berryman and co. to immediately cease using bailiffs against CTRS claimants.
Given their different politics to their predecessors, perhaps it’s no real surprise Haringey’s new leadership has taken this step. But it’s not just new “New Left” Boroughs making the change. Down in leafy Richmond, the Lib Dems included a commitment in their election manifesto to scrap their Conservative predecessors’ 15 per cent Minimum Payment. This follows excellent research on the impact of those changes locally by Richmond CAB. Richmond’s Cabinet has one more meeting before the legal window to commence a public consultation closes towards the end of September, so we will be keeping a close eye on what happens there.
Of course, even two swallows don’t make a summer. But with positive smaller-scale tweaks to some Borough CTR schemes in the offing elsewhere too, we might have reached a turning point in the campaign against this new Poll Tax.
Published: 9th August, 2018
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