Previously exempt households in arrears crisis as benefits are cut; while Liverpool city council is owed £10m in council tax.
Hundreds of thousands of the poorest households in England are having their benefits cut every week because they are unable to pay their council tax bill, the Observer can reveal.
Families are stacking up such arrears, spanning years in some cases, that they are having their benefits slashed, which is driving them further into poverty.
Until 2013, those on small or no incomes had some protection from paying the full tax under a national support scheme. Since then, councils in England have had to administer their own, locally devised schemes, with reduced funding from the government.
The result has been mass failure to pay council tax by those who would previously have been exempt, and a surge in cases where benefits are docked to make good on arrears. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act from 133 local authorities reveals that 190,198 households currently have money deducted from their benefits in this way.
Given the number of councils that did not provide figures, it is likely that around 360,000 households could be facing this form of sanction, which requires an order from a magistrate. Many of them would not have had to pay any council tax prior to the government’s reform of the system.
The worst-affected council area in England is Labour-run Liverpool, where 17,582 households claiming council tax support have so-called “attachments” to benefits. Up to £192 can be sliced off a claimant’s benefit each year in order to clear their council tax arrears.