This article was written by Hilary Osborne, for The Guardian on Sunday 25th May 2014
In the first three months of this year, the charity helped 27,000 people who had fallen behind with council tax bills, a 17% increase on the same period of 2013, and one in five of those reporting debt problems had an arrears issue. The charity said the increase had come in the wake of the abolition of council tax benefit in April 2013, and its replacement with new support from local councils. Levels of help vary from council to council, and as of March this year, 244 out of 325 councils in England required all working-age households to make some contribution, regardless of income.
The first wave of changes drove up the number of council tax arrears cases Citizens Advice dealt with to the point that they overtook problems with credit cards and unsecured personal loans for the first time.
Of those contacting the charity about council tax arrears, 42% were employed and 28% unemployed. The rest were full-time carers, or similar.
Of those seeking help with debt generally, one in five had problems with an unsecured loan and the same proportion had a fuel debt issue. One in six had problems with a credit or store card and 5% were behind on a mortgage or secured loan.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Consumer debts like credit cards and personal loans have traditionally been the most common debt problems that come through our doors, but since the end of council tax benefit we’ve seen council tax arrears problems go through the roof.”
Guy said that for some households, council tax bills were the tipping point that plunged them into debt.
“Last year, more than 90,000 people came to Citizens Advice looking for help with council tax arrears as they struggle in the face of low incomes, rising prices and reduced financial support,”
“As their budgets shrink, local authorities are increasingly stretched, but they must ensure that the resources available for their local council tax support scheme are focused on those who are most in need.”
The areas with the largest proportion of clients with council tax arrears were all outside London, and include Salford near Manchester, Stoke on Trent, Rutland and Redcar & Cleveland.
Local authorities can instruct bailiffs to recover unpaid bills or apply to have payments deducted from wages.
Source – Welfare News Service, 26 May 2014