THE number of people receiving summonses for non-payment of council tax has increased by almost a quarter in East Staffordshire since the benefits system was altered earlier this year.
A total of 4,040 people have been told to answer their case for non-payment of council tax before the courts since the council tax reduction scheme was introduced in April – 783 more than the same period last year.
However, East Staffordshire Borough Council has argued the increase cannot be put down to the changes alone.
A spokesman for the authority said: “There will be council tax payers not entitled to or claiming a reduction who could also be summonsed for non-payment.
“The council has a number of ways in which it helps residents struggling with council tax payments and any resident seeking advice can go to our customer service centres in Burton or Uttoxeter or speak to council’s council tax team on 01283 508030.”
The figure has been released following a report from the Labour Party showing that more than 450,000 more people had been ordered to attend court since the scheme altered during a major benefits shake up orchestrated by central Government.
The change was forced when parliament voted to no longer provide the same level of council tax support to local authorities.
It meant councils had to fund their own exemption schemes, and many decided to cap the amount of support they could offer. Those claiming discounts are means tested, with the maximum amount of support available 75 per cent of the full bill.
The upshot is that people who previously had to pay no council tax, now have to find money to fund at least 25 per cent of the cost – which many people may not have.
In a national news story published yesterday, the Labour Party said that 112 councils had reported issuing 156,000 summonses to people paying more tax as a result of the change. The opposition party argued that families were being forced to make a decision between feeding themselves and ‘staying on the right side of the law’.
Jon Wheale, the party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Burton, said: “I think this shows that for some people the cost of living is becoming a real problem. This is potentially 800 families that are having a problem, and they are people we would not want to see having problems.”
South Derbyshire District Council said it had seen ‘only a handful’ of people affected by changes to the council tax benefit had been issued with summonses since April.
A spokesman for the authority said the figure was ‘less than 50’.
He added: “We offer a broad range of support to people facing genuine difficulties paying their bills.
“This can include setting up flexible payment plans or guiding people through the process of applying for financial help.
“Every opportunity is given to those in arrears to make arrangements to pay. Court summonses are only issued as a last resort.
“It is important we do everything possible to protect the public purse so our resources can be directed to those in need.”
Earlier in the year, the Mail reported that £4.1 million in council tax was uncollected in South Derbyshire in 2011/12, and £3.5 million was not collected in East Staffordshire.