Bailiffs collected council tax debts from more than 19,200 low-income Londoners last year, a 51 per cent rise in 12 months, a report reveals today.
Child Poverty Action Group and the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust also said increasing numbers of the capital’s working poor were in arrears and cut back on food or took out loans to settle the bill.
Freedom of Information Act requests revealed debt collectors’ visits surged after the Government abolished council tax benefit, with local support instead provided by cash-strapped councils.
They found 26 of the 32 boroughs now charge families who were previously deemed too poor to pay council tax.
The “Still Too Poor to Pay” report said many boroughs increased minimum payments and two — Ealing and Hillingdon — introduced charges for disabled and unemployed residents for the first time. This pushed more than 131,000 London households into arrears last year. Where bailiffs are used, their fees are added to a claimant’s council tax arrears — which the charities said meant “inflating the debt and making it harder for households to repay”.
Only six boroughs now offer 100 per cent support for low-income households: Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Kingston, Merton, Tower Hamlets and Westminster, plus the City of London.
Since 2013 at least 318,000 households have been unable to pay their new council tax charges and received a court summons as a result, the report says. That caused further charges of more than £27 million in court costs.
The charities called for the return to full benefit support to pay council tax for families in financial hardship.
Z2K chief executive Joanna Kennedy said: “I can’t think of a group less suited to such aggressive enforcement.”
London Councils said town halls had been hit with 63 per cent budget cuts. It went on: “Boroughs will always try to come to an arrangement with council tax payers before court action.”