Members of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group, Brent Trades Council, Ealing Housing Co-op, Unite Community, Brent Fightback and Brent Green Party stood outside Willesden Magistrates Court today when a new tranche of Brent residents appeared in response to summonses issued by Brent Council for non-payment of Council Tax.
Following Council Tax benefit changes many residents who previously did not have to pay the full amount, and in some cases any, now have to pay. Brent Council's scheme expects more in payment than many other local authorities, some of which have chosen to maintain 100% council tax benefit.
Speaking to local residents as they arrived it became clear that these weren't the 'idle and feckless scroungers' as stereotyped by ConDems and the media.
They were often people on low pay or zero hours contracts who found themselves having to choose between paying their rent or paying the Concil Tax. Needless to say they opted to pay rent to keep a roof over their heads.
Previously Muhummed Butt, leader of Brent Council, has justified the summonses as the only way to force residents to engage with the Council about their arrears. Today a Brent Council officer was in court to give advice before any formal proceedings and some residents came out having settled terms for payment or been referred for further help with benefits. One resident was complimentary about the helpfulness of the officer.
It does seem a pity that residents had to go to court at all, with all the associated worry and stigma, and I hope backbench councillors and the Opposition will explore with the Cabinet how to better enagage people before matters reach this stage.
Preferably of course it would be best to revise the scheme so that people are not faced with the unpalatable choice of having to choose between payment of Council Tax and payment of rent or purchase of food. However, the Council approved the scheme earlier this year with only slight modifications, despite protests.
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