Southwark council summonsed more than 5,000 poor households to Camberwell Magistrates Court on Friday of last week because of council tax arrears.
Arrears have soared since the Tories cut council tax benefit in April. The cuts meant that 10 million people lost part of their benefit. The south London council is targeting the most vulnerable people in the borough—some of whom have no income at all.
One man, Keith, is being chased for the measly amount of £12.67— owed from 2006-07.
But the debt rose to £77.67 after the council added “summons costs” of £65. “I don’t understand it,” said Keith. “They said I owed this years ago, but when I came I got sent away and told not to worry about it. It’s a waste of time.”
People queued outside the court on Friday morning along with protesters. The Southwark Benefits Justice campaign and the Unite union had called on people to demonstrate outside.
Jay had received an itemised bill for different time periods from the council. It detailed £10.02, £19.98 and £96—although Jay said the last amount was a court fee.
It then added the £65 summons costs—giving him a total bill of £191. “Times are tough,” he told Socialist Worker. “I’m on Job Seekers Allowance of £71 a week. Gas is up, electric’s up. It’s hard.”
Diane Ridgwell is in arrears with her council tax after Tory policies meant she lost some of her benefits. She receives just £126 a fortnight to live on.
She told Socialist Worker, “My kids left home so I’m being pressured to downsize because of the bedroom tax. They’re picking on the ones who don’t have anything to start with.”
“It’s downright out of order,” she said. “You can’t enjoy life. It’s just the same thing day in, day out.”
The council is even targeting people who have no money coming in at all. Sulaiman Keita is disabled and has two major operations coming up.
But his benefits have been cut off since 14 March—and now he has a letter from the council demanding he pays council tax.
“I have to beg for food on the streets,” he told Socialist Worker. “I hang around bookies and when someone wins some money, I ask for a pound so I can buy chicken and chips.”
The council has threatened to humiliate workers in arrears by contacting their bosses to snatch the money from their wages.
In England 112 councils have issued 156,000 summonses since April to people who have lost out because of the Tories’ benefit cuts.