Uttlesford’s tax crackdown on households

HUNDREDS of additional households in Uttlesford are being chased for not paying their council tax under the Government’s new benefits system.

More than 500 extra cases of non-payment are being pursued by Uttlesford District Council (UDC), bringing the total to 1,255, up from 734 in the two-month period from April to May last year.

In May, UDC also sent an additional 890 reminder letters due to unpaid bills, compared to 2012.

The legal action follows changes to the benefits system which came into force on April 1, affecting nearly 1,250 homes in Uttlesford.

A national council tax benefit scheme was scrapped and UDC now receives a fixed grant which it has to decide how to spend.

Many people who had previously paid nothing towards their bills now have to contribute a maximum of 8.5 per cent. Others have to make a bigger contribution than previously.

Elderly people and households with disabled people or carers were protected from the reform – which is still the most generous scheme throughout Essex.

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Uttlesford Citizens Advice Bureau has warned the change could affect people’s ability to pay their rent, resulting in eviction and an increase in homelessness.

The cumulative affects of the cuts could be disastrous, said social policy manager Kelly Dorrington.

She said: “This increase in action by UDC due to non-payment is a concern and those who have been impacted by both the council tax support changes and ‘bedroom tax’ increases should be made aware that they are in danger of losing their home, as well as the remote possibility of prison, if they do not pay the difference.

“We urge everyone to pay their priority bills such as rent and council tax first. If you are struggling to do that and can’t find the money to pay without going into debt, please come and see us.”

Other welfare reforms are also beginning to bite, including the introduction of the so-called “bedroom tax”.

Since April, payouts to housing benefit claimants have been reduced if they have empty bedrooms, by 14 per cent for one and 25 per cent for two or more.

In total, 272 households in the district have been affected.

A UDC spokesman said the authority had been proactive prior to the introduction of changes to council tax support.

He said: “The council has previously identified those residents likely to be affected by the welfare reform changes and contacted them directly to offer help and advice with their council tax.

“We always contact residents before and after summonses are issued in an effort to come to a mutually agreeable payment arrangement, and to make them aware of what support is available to them via other organisations.”

• Any resident having difficulties paying council tax should speak to the council’s revenues collection officer on 01799 510510 or by e-mail at revenues@uttlesford.gov.uk