Council calls the bailiffs on Hackney’s poorest

Hackney Town Hall, of Mare Street.

Hackney Town Hall, of Mare Street. - Credit: Archant

Nearly 2,000 of Hackney’s poorest residents have been threatened with bailiffs over their council tax, a shocking report has revealed.

The New Poll Tax study by London debt charity, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust and the Child Poverty Action Group, found Hackney residents who failed to pay their council tax had the second highest number of visits from bailiffs of any borough in London.

Between April 2013 and 2014, 7,502 of Hackney’s poorest were ordered to court because they couldn’t afford to pay their council tax.

Out of those, 1,874 then had bailiffs sent to raid their homes – making up 12 per cent of all council tax related bailiff requests across the city last year, second only to Lambeth.

Under new legislation that came into force in April last year, local authorities no longer received 100 per cent council tax benefits for its poorest residents.

Now, local authorities can set a minimum percentage of their council tax that residents must pay regardless of their income, with Hackney Council choosing a rate of 15 per cent.

Sam Aston, from Zacchaeus 2000 said: “Hackney doesn’t seem to have a sensitive policy towards people in this position.

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“Southwark has a policy that these are vulnerable people with little money so it is not the best way to get the money.

“The default setting of council collectors is to be as aggressive as possible to get the money back and I think politicians need to lead the way in stopping people being treated this way.

“Some councils have been telling people to treat council tax as a priority. It doesn’t matter if you are in debt to the electric company, you should pay our tax first.”

Mr Aston explained that often, Hackney’s poorest residents do not even own anything valuable enough to pay off the debt – meaning they’re subjected to repeat visits and their debt increases.

He said: “The council doesn’t pay fees to the bailiffs. Generally the fees are liable to the debtor and the money owned goes higher and higher.

Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “This research shows the direct impact that changes to council tax funding are having on the poorest families. “Families tell us that it is simply not possible for them to make these make payments from household budgets already stretched to breaking point.

“Problems are being exacerbated for residents by councils increasing the debt owed by adding additional charges to a bill they are already struggling to pay.

“We call on central government and local authorities to stop taxing households that are too poor to pay.”

A spokesman for the council said residents had a duty to contribute towards council services. She said bailiffs were only used if all other avenues are “exhausted.”

“We give residents the opportunity at every stage of the process to avoid court action,” she added