Millions Suffer as Council Supports Benefit Cuts

The Citizens Advice Bureau feel recent local authority benefit cuts are causing poverty, hardship and in some cases, financial ruin. This is the latest round of information offered by Simple Financial Solutions, a well-established debt advice company.

Nearly two and a half million people have been subjected to a substantial cut in their council tax support, in the attempt to reduce the annual benefits bill by half a billion pounds. The unemployed, the young and those on a low income face are those most affected, because the government has intervened to ensure the benefit cuts don’t affect pensioners.

A recent Freedom of information request revealed that people most affected included 112,000 carers, 3,600 war widows and 409,000 disabled individuals.

People who fail to pay their council tax will be receiving a court summons and defaulters can be imprisoned if the arrears remain unpaid. So, effectively, we are criminalising the poor. Local records show that home evictions and bailiff visits owing to unpaid council tax are on the rise, and many are turning to the Citizens Advice Bureau and other debt advisers for advice.

However, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has recently funded some research that was carried out by the New Policy Institute. The results show the local authorities who have charged higher “minimum” council tax payments and made the largest cuts are experiencing falling collection rates and incurring bigger arrears and court costs.

Many front line charities and services, including the Citizens Advice Bureau are struggling to meet demand for help and advice in the fallout from recent benefit cuts.

The Citizens Advice Bureau recognizes the economy looks brighter, but Gillian Guy (chief executive CAB) feels many people are still failing to meet their financial commitments. Three in five people are concerned about rising bills and many are reigning in their spending, so Gillian feel she is justified in saying people are still struggling to pay basic bills.

One out of every five people who contact the Citizens Advice Bureau is concerned about council tax debt and this appears to be the uppermost debt problem at this moment in time. In the wake of the recession, more are turning toward short-term, high cost credit to pay household bills.

A percentage of local authorities are unwilling to pass cuts to the local community and these authorities are viewed as unfeeling and uncooperative. Cheltenham Borough Council is one such authority, but this council is intent on finding other ways of bridging the financial gap.

John Rawson, a local councillor felt it was self-defeating to cut benefits to the poorest in the community. He said money would be wasted chasing small debts and it was impossible to get blood from a stone.

The debt Advice Company, Simple Financial Solutions and voluntary staff at the Citizens Advice Bureau say the problem is worsening. The benefits cuts were implemented eighteen months ago, but people are still struggling to live on less money.

Recent media reports state the economy is recovering, but the Citizens Advice Bureau state millions of households are still feeling the pinch. People are finding it difficult to afford food and to pay energy bills because wages are not rising in line with inflation. Meanwhile, local authorities and the government continue to exert pressure by cutting key benefits like child benefit and council tax.

Many people who are deep in debt feel there is no way out and the threat of court of a possible prison sentence due to non-payment of council tax makes the situation worse.