South Tyneside Council has been accused of ‘discriminating’ against the unemployed over its council tax charges.
The authority is one of the few councils in England to demand those receiving job seekers’ allowance (JSA) still pay 30% of their annual council tax bill.
All other North East councils request lower contributions, including Northumberland County Council which charges nothing to single unemployed people in receipt of JSA.
South Tyneside says it has been one of the hardest hit authorities nationally by reductions in Government funding, and although it has frozen council tax since 2010 it has been unable to keep bills low for all groups.
But Peter Watt lives in a one bedroom flat in Priory Road, Jarrow, and has been out of work for almost four months.
The 38-year-old’s annual band A bill of £967.53 is reduced by a 25% reduction for living alone and again by 70% for being unemployed, but still stands at £217.69, which he says is too high.
He said: “South Tyneside Council is about the only council I am aware of in the country that charges 30% to the unemployed – a group that cannot afford it. Neighbouring councils don’t do it so how can this one?
“They tell me they are trying to protect three groups of people – the disabled, OAPs and households with children under the age of five – and I have nothing against that but it does seem like they are discriminating against people without jobs.
“My JSA is £71.60 per week and it is there to help people seek jobs – not to bail out South Tyneside Council. I did have a job briefly but it was on a zero hours contract so I wasn’t entitled to working tax credit.
“I was being paid £200 a week and the council took £130 for the council tax and a furniture package I got with the house. I was left with £70 for bus fare, food and all my bills so I had to quit to survive.”
Mr Watt continues to search for security jobs, and has even applied to South Tyneside Council for a position.
He added: “I plan to appeal against the fees at a valuation tribunal.“I am so short on cash that when I am cold I use my sleeping bag rather than the heating, I do my cooking in the microwave or deep fat fryer because it uses less power, I don’t wash up with hot water until all my dishes are dirty, and I haven’t turned my electric fire on for two years.”
A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “Council tax contributes to the funding the Council needs to provide vital public services.
“In 2013, South Tyneside Council introduced a Local Council Tax Support scheme to replace the Council Tax Benefit scheme which was abolished as part of the Government’s Welfare Reforms.
“The changes resulted in the Council losing more than £1.7m in Government support, a shortfall the Council had to meet while still protecting the Borough’s most vulnerable residents.
“Band A residents who are not in the protected groups, but are unemployed and live alone, currently receive up to a maximum 70% discount on their Council Tax and are required to pay £4.18 per week.
“We are, of course, concerned when residents find it difficult to pay and would urge anyone in this situation to contact us as soon as possible so that we can explore flexible repayment arrangements that take their circumstances into consideration.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Oct 2014