Councils, housing associations and the DWP are crushing people with debt

From Kate Belgrave’s blog

While Brexit and Trump hoover resources and headlines, the state and so-called social landlords continue to get away with screwing people into the ground:

Last week, I spent several hours at the South Chadderton foodbank in Oldham speaking with people who’d come in for groceries.

We talked about the reasons why people needed to use the foodbank.

One explanation in particular came up, as it does a lot: Debt repayment plans are leaving people with no money.

People on benefits and low incomes are repaying arrears or loans money to councils, housing associations, the DWP, bailiffs and god knows who else – but they can’t afford it. The loss of the fivers and tenners that authorities deduct in repayments make a tolerable life impossible. People certainly don’t have the hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of pounds that are really needed to shift these debts. Simple equation, when you look at it. Debts grow and penalties grow, but income does not.

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“I stay away from my flat to avoid the bailiffs” – the joys of being hunted down for council tax

From Kate Belgrave’s blog

Happy New Year, all.

Am kicking things off with a story about council tax, people who can’t afford to pay it, bailiffs who keep bashing on doors to demand money that people continue not to have and the almost-unusable council systems that people must use to try and sort things out.

Happy days.

Just before Christmas, I rang Redbridge council on behalf of a young woman who lived in Redbridge a couple of years ago. She was moved there from another borough to escape domestic violence. She lives in another borough now.

To get down to it: the councils in all three of the boroughs that this young woman has lived in over recent years have chased her – through the courts and with bailiffs – for council tax that she can’t pay.

This situation regularly spiralled out of control last year. The demands for money kept coming. Bailiff and court costs increased (and continue to do so). The bailiffs turned up. Towards the end of last year, visits from bailiffs became a regular feature in this young woman’s life. “I hide in the bedroom when they come…or I try not to be at home,” she told me. Imagine that. She spent the Christmas break staying away from her flat to avoid bailiffs. God only knows how many people live this way.

Point is – the thing is futile. It so often is. This young woman has repayment plans, but has run into trouble with these for the simple reason that she has no money. This is the key point to keep in mind. If people have no money, they have no money. Harassment by councils and bailiffs doesn’t change this basic fact.

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Universal Credit pilot sees tenants plunge into arrears

Tenants have been plunged into rent arrears after the introduction of a controversial new welfare regime – and now council bosses are asking the UK Government for compensation

Musselburgh was chosen as the first area in Scotland to pilot the full digital roll-out of the new Universal Credit (UC), which replaces six other benefits and was intended to simplify the system but has been criticised for making it more complex.

And a report by East Lothian Council reveals a 22 per cent increase in rent arrears among UC claimants in just three months, with the average amount owed almost £900.

 The report says the way the system is being managed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is causing “major concern”. And it recommends the council should seek “financial recompense from the UK Government for the loss of council tax and council house rent income as a result of UC”.

Council leader Willie Innes said: “Almost from the start of the new system we became aware of delays being experienced by claimants. The length of time some people were left waiting for payments meant they were experiencing considerable financial hardships.

“The council had established key teams of staff to help advise on the new system but the delayed payments to tenants has also resulted in delayed rent and council tax payments.

“As the introduction of Universal Credit has resulted in significant loss of income to the council we are seeking financial recompense from the UK Government. We are also asking the Scottish Government to take immediate steps to use its powers to have the housing cost element of Universal Credit paid directly to landlords.”

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Sanctions, debt, depression and eviction

The Reverend Paul Nicholson writes:

I met John* after his three month sanction had ended. He lived in a fifth floor council flat and was wondering whether to throw himself off the balcony. He had a history of depression and I do not like to speculate what would have happened if he had been left on his own.


He had been sanctioned for three months by a job centre for attending a job-related interview a day late. His GP immediately sent him to the NHS for twelve sessions of therapy. Rent and council tax arrears had piled up because the job centre’s computer is connected to the local council’s computer. When John’s £73.10 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) was stopped, the job centre’s computer sent a signal to the council’s computer telling it that John was no longer eligible for JSA. That signal automatically cancelled his eligibility for housing and council tax benefits, which were then stopped by the council’s computer.


Then the bailiffs called at 7.30 in the morning demanding £400 the next day for a TV licence fine that John did not know existed. He called me at 8 am and I called the bailiffs telling them that they should not waste time enforcing that fine because we were taking the case back to the magistrates to seek remission of the debt and their fees. I also reminded them that there is guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice which advises them to return to the magistrate’s court cases involving “vulnerable situations.”


Anyone summoned to court, who attends without legal representation, is allowed a McKenzie Friend; so called because the person who won the right to a friend in court was called McKenzie. I have supported people that way for many years. I went to court with John and they let him off £135 of unpaid fine and dismissed the bailiffs without their fees.


The next thing to hit John was the news that his council flat was due to be demolished.

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Benefit cuts blamed for 51% surge in use of bailiffs for council tax debts

London has seen a 51% hike in the use of bailiffs to chase down the debts from the capital’s poorest households.

Three years after the localisation of council tax support (CTS) to London boroughs, council tax arrears are up and London has seen a 51% hike in the use of bailiffs to chase down the debts from the capital’s poorest households, a new report from Z2K and Child Poverty Action Group reveals.

The report finds 19,212 London claimants of council tax support were referred to bailiffs in 2015/16 for council tax arrears – up from 12,692in 2014/15.(1) This is despite a small decrease in court summonses issued.

Although fewer Londoners claimed council tax support in 2015/16, the number of households in arrears rose to 131,572 in the year to March 2016 – up from 123,000 in March 2015.

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Bailiff visits to poor Londoners soar to 19,000 as residents lose benefits

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.”

Two million bailiff calls as councils brutalise poor

In the past year, councils in England and Wales have sent bailiffs in to collect debts over two million times.

Ordinary working class people are struggling to get by. Zero-hour contracts, poverty pay and sky-high rents are the norm. Now we face the increasing threat of our own councils – including Labour – calling in the bailiffs!

The most vulnerable in society are being further penalised, and for what crime? Being poor!

Research by the Money Advice Trust shows using bailiffs not only worsens a person’s wellbeing, but actually deepens debts. Elsewhere in this issue of the Socialist, ordinary people respond to lethal benefit cuts. Increased use of bailiffs – up around 16% over the past two years – can only make things worse.

Cuts to council tax benefit are a major contributing factor. Taking property to cover such debts is the reason for most bailiff calls, although in repossession cases they can also evict tenants.

Councils are blaming central government cuts for the increase. This, however, is no excuse.

Instead of doing the Tory government’s dirty work, local authorities should refuse to pass on cuts. The Socialist Party says they must use their platform to lead residents and workers in a fightback.

Local campaigns have already taken it up. Attempted evictions, as a result of the bedroom tax, have been stopped by community campaigners coming together and refusing to let bailiffs in.

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