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Plea for concerted action by the Lords Spiritual

by
25 January 2013

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From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, - Local councils are currently coping with the consequences of the Local Government Finance Act 2012, and the Treasury's decision to cut the central government funding council tax benefit by ten per cent. Each council is now required to create its own council-tax benefit scheme; that means the reintroduction of a variety of poll taxes, of 1990s renown, for working-age claimants, at 8.5 per cent, 15 per cent, or 20 per cent of the council tax from April 2013.

Councils with large numbers of claimants say they cannot afford 100-per-cent benefit for those receiving it now, and keep services running. They are exempting pensioners and, in most cases, the disabled. Wealthy councils will keep 100 per cent for all claimants.

Haringey Council has decided to tax benefits with 20 per cent of the council tax. That will be on top of the caps on housing benefit and the £500 overall cap on all benefits. It analysed the cumulative impact of housing-benefit caps (HBC), the overall benefit cap (OBC), and the 20 per cent of the council tax (CT) to be paid by claimants in and out of work. An increase in council tax by Haringey of £45 a year, or 86p a week at Band D, would pay for keeping the 100-per-cent CT benefit.

There are, however, 36,000 people in Haringey who will be paying council tax for the first time. Of them, for example, there are 131 single people who, owing to the HBC, will have to pay an average amount of £5.89 a week, and a maximum of £51.89, rent, out of £71 weekly jobseekers' allowance (JSA), plus an average of £2.92 weekly CT, and a maximum of £5.89.

It gets worse. There are 49 unemployed couples with two children who, owing to OBC, will have to pay an average of £67.87 a week in rent out of their JSA, plus children's benefit of £258 a week, and an average £4.53 CT a week. The reaction of tenants I have met is fear and insecurity.

Varieties of those impacts will be repeated throughout England. Inevitable council-tax arrears are enforced by councils with threats of prison, a magistrates' liability order, adding around £70, and bailiffs, adding up to a further £400. Chan-ging benefit up-rating from the RPI to the CPI in April 2011 has already diminished the capacity of benefit income to keep up with escalating prices.

The Welfare Benefits Up-Rating Bill, freezing increases at one per cent for three years, brings to mind last straws and broken backs. The Bill has its second reading in the Lords on 11 February. There has never been a stronger case for the 26 Lords Spiritual to vote en bloc against it; confirmations can be done by suffragans that day.

PAUL NICOLSON
Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

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