This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 27th August 2014
Local authorities were unable to collect up to 40% of council tax due from low-income households that had the charge imposed on them for the first time last year.
The result has been widespread non-payment. Nationally, more than a fifth of council tax charged to working-age claimants was unpaid at the end of 2013-14.
The figures, obtained from responses from 140 councils to Freedom of Information requests by the anti-cuts group False Economy, reveal that some of the biggest towns and cities were left chasing millions of pounds from the poor.
Liverpool collected 61% of council tax due from the poor, leaving the city short by £3.5m.
In Birmingham, the non-payment rate among the vulnerable was 30%, leaving the council seeking to recover £3m in lost revenue.
Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield were all chasing more than £2m each in tax from those on the lowest incomes.
A report published last month by Child Poverty Action Group and the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust said almost 40% of Londoners affected by the cuts had been sent a court summons for council tax debts in 2013-14, with more than 15,000 claimants’ debts referred to bailiffs.
In Haringey, north London, which collected 80% of the council tax due from benefit claimants, hundreds of households have been taken to court to recover unpaid tax – with non-payers threatened with bankruptcy, repossession and ultimately prison.
Last week, sitting in the magistrates court in Tottenham, Dick, 49, said there was “no way” he could afford the £7-a-week council tax his housing association two-bedroom flat was being charged. He has walked with a stick since his Achilles tendon snapped in 2012.
“I don’t work. I get employment support allowance which is £70 a week and my son lives with me and he gets a few hours on a market stall. After rent and everything else we have about £140 a month to live on. Food, clothes, the lot. I go down the food bank to eat. Can’t afford to heat up food because we cannot put money into the gas meter. How can I afford the council tax too? We never paid this before. It’s just getting the poor to pay up. That’s all it is.”
Dick said he had offered to pay £3 a week towards council tax after working out his finances with the local Citizens Advice bureau, but the local authority did not respond to his offer. Instead the council has asked for the full year’s council tax to be paid immediately – £350 – plus the cost of recovering his unpaid tax through a liability order of £125. “It’s ridiculous. I worked all my life. Never needed anything. Now I got nothing they want to get that.”
A spokesperson for False Economy called for the cuts to be reversed. “These figures show that people on low incomes are struggling to cope with council tax benefit cuts, just as the government was warned they would. Households are left either falling into debt and at risk of legal action, or taking money for food and essentials to plug the shortfall, in what is a government-created personal debt crisis.”
Councils said they were caught in an “impossible situation” as ministers had forced local authorities to pass on £500m in cuts when the scheme was introduced – and there would be further reductions in the discounts the poor received as town hall budgets were squeezed in the coming years.
Sharon Taylor, chair of the Local Government Association’s finance panel, said: “Councils would need to find £1bn by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes.
“At a time when local government is already tackling £20bn worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far. Many councils have been put in an impossible position. No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But pressure on funding for local services means many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.”
Hilary Benn, the shadow cabinet member responsible for local government, said two million of the poorest people were affected by the council tax hikes.
“These figures show that many of the people affected, including single parents and disabled people, are finding it very difficult to pay the Tories’ tax increase. The government was warned that this was going to be Poll Tax mark two, and so it is proving.”
The government defended its changes, saying it had “worked with councils to freeze council tax for the last four years” for most residents.
Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, said: “Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work. We are ending Labour’s something-for-nothing culture and making work pay.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 29 Aug 2014
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that it failed to interview two whistleblowers who made serious allegations of fraud by a private sector provider within the government’s specialist work programme for disabled people.
DWP supposedly launched an investigation last autumn into the claims made against Seetec by two of its former employees.
Both of the women, Perveen Sud and Reena Gour, had sent brief emails alerting DWP that the Work Choice provider had been artificially inflating the number of jobs it said it was finding for disabled people.
But despite the serious allegations outlined in their emails last July and August, neither of the women has been interviewed by the DWP’s fraud investigators, and they only discovered that the government had cleared Seetec of fraud when informed last month by Disability News Service (DNS).
This week, DWP finally admitted that neither woman had been interviewed about the allegations they had made about Seetec, which is the worst-performing of the eight Work Choice contractors, according to the latest government figures.
A DWP spokesman claimed there was no reason to interview them because all the information the investigators needed was in their emails.
But DNS has seen the email sent by Sud last August and it includes only a 100-word summary of her allegations, over just four sentences.
None of the details that she passed to DNS were included in the email, and both Sud and Gour have told DNS that they had detailed information that they had been ready to share with DWP.
Sud and Gour have told DNS this week that they have been waiting for months for DWP to contact them about their claims.
Gour said: “It’s ridiculous. If someone makes allegations, you call them and you speak to them.”
Sud added: “They need to talk to us. It’s outrageous. There is no way you should have those kind of accusations made and not be interviewed about them.”
This week, DWP insisted that it had acted correctly and had not attempted to cover up their fraud claims.
The DWP spokesman said: “As far as I can work out, they [the whistleblowers] emailed the information to us and then they were written to a few months later to say it was still being investigated.
“As I understand it, the information they provided was investigated. They raise the issue and we look into it.
“[Our investigators] investigated it and found there was not fraud. If you wish to say it is a cover-up, that is your prerogative. I would say it is not a cover-up.”
Asked whether ministers were aware of the “investigation”, he said: “I really don’t know.”
Sud and Gour told DNS last year how Seetec offered Work Choice clients as free labour to charities and other host organisations, and then paid their wages for the next six months, while allegedly pretending to DWP that the salaries were instead being paid by the host organisations.
Three organisations told DNS how they had accepted disabled job-seekers for six-month placements, even though it was made clear to Seetec that they were just volunteer roles, they would not be paid, and there would be no jobs available at the end of the six months.
Despite this, Seetec – which provides Work Choice services in west and north London and has more than 800 employees – is alleged to have logged the placements as “job outcomes”, claiming payments from the government both at the beginning and end of the six months.
Seetec was able to make a profit because the amount it received from DWP – thousands of pounds for every client who completed six months in a job – was hundreds of pounds a month more than it paid the clients, who only had to work 20 hours a week at minimum wage to qualify for a job outcome.
Source – Disability News Service, 16 May 2014
British National Party leader Nick Griffin has accused Ukip of recycling and softening their hardline anti-immigration policy.
Mr Griffin made the remarks after Ukip council candidate William Henwood told Lenny Henry to emigrate to a black country.
Henwood, who is standing in a council election in Enfield, north London, made the comment on Twitter in response to a speech by Henry in which he said ethnic minorities were under-represented on British television.
“He should emigrate to a black country. He does not have to live with whites,” Mr Henwood posted.
‘Defending’ the remark, Mr Henwood told the BBC: “I think if black people come to this country and don’t like mixing with white people why are they here? If he (Henry) wants a lot of blacks around go and live in a black country.”
Griffin told the BBC: “If you look at Ukip they are using all our rhetoric, they are using our slogans, they are recycling our posters and people like it.
> Some people like it, Nick. Mainly the sort of people who thought your views represented balanced social comment.
“The only difference is that Ukip won’t deliver. Their actual policy is a 50,000 net increase in immigration every year.
“When they talk about balanced migration what Farage actually means is for every Brit who leaves Britain, they’d be happy to let a Pakistani or an Afghan in, which means their policy is actually about 300,000 new immigrants a year.
“Our policy is simple: shut the door, we don’t want anyone – black, brown, green or white.
“I think if the public get to understand that then Ukip’s vote is going to meltdown as they come under the scrutiny they deserve.”
> Weirdly, I find myself agreeing with Nick Griffin ! Only on this last point, mind… vote for UKIP, vote for the new British fascist party.
Source – Sunday Herald 27 April 2014