Over the past three years, Z2K has learned to keep a sharp eye out for London boroughs consulting on changes to their Council Tax Support schemes in the run-up to Christmas. Every autumn since the Coalition Government abolished the national system of Council Tax Benefit has seen half a dozen or more consultations on increased charges for those who are disabled, sick or unemployed. And autumn 2016 is no exception.
In September, Waltham Forest consulted on increasing its charges to an eye-watering 40 per cent of full Council Tax bill. A 40 per cent Minimum Payment would be the highest of any London borough, and as far as we can tell, the second highest in England. Waltham Forest actually has a bit of a track record of consulting on a high figure, but deciding upon something a bit lower. Two years ago, it consulted upon a figure of 32 per cent, but then set its Minimum Payment at 24 per cent. However, this kind of modus operandi is pretty disreputable. Z2K has written in objection to this proposal (add link) and we fully support those local residents are challenging the proposal.
Also in East London, Redbridge has begun consulting on plans to increase its Minimum Payment to 20 per cent next year and up again to 25 per cent in 2018. After starting with one of the lowest Minimum Payments back in 2013, these increases if implemented would make it one of the highest by 2018. By sneakily consulting on the charge for 2018/19 now, Redbridge’s administration would also avoid a potentially controversial consultation in the run-up to the next local elections. Nevertheless, political control in Redbridge is quite finely balanced and so there is some hope back bench councillors will reign back these proposed increases.
Another East London borough currently consulting is Tower Hamlets. Z2K has previously highlighted Tower Hamlets as an example of best practice because of its decision not to pass on the cuts in Council Tax Support to its poorest residents. That makes it all the more disappointing to see its Mayor now proposing to introduce a 20 per cent Minimum Payment, albeit with the potential option of exempting disabled claimants and lone parents with young children. As in Waltham Forest, we are doing our best to raise awareness of this proposal – which isn’t easy when it has so far only been hidden away on the council’s website! – and encourage those affected to respond.
Z2K has always acknowledged that these local CTS charges are first and foremost driven by the Government’s cuts. We understand the financial pressures local authorities are under. But our concern is that most claimants are under even greater financial pressure than any council. We realise it isn’t easy to find savings, but alternatives are possible. We are pleased to see that Hammersmith & Fulham and Merton have both confirmed they will be sticking with their policy of not charging next year too. Even better Camden now looks set to confirm it will be ending its current 8.5 per cent charges and restoring 100 per cent support from next April. So it can be done.
Z2K urges all local councillors to take a much closer look at the serious impact of this new Poll Tax on their poorest constituents before hiking up their charges.