Charity says welfare reforms have hit Ipswich residents hard as council tax arrears top £1m
- Credit: Archant
Householders in Ipswich owe more than £1million in council tax arrears from a single year, it has emerged.
As of January 31 this year, residents were behind on their payments from 2015/2016 by a collective sum of £1,180,168.60.
During that financial year Ipswich Borough Council (IBC) should have collected a total of £60m in council tax, the rate of which is set depending on the value of the property.
Nelleke van Helfteren, deputy manager of Ipswich Citizens Advice, said 45% of clients who came to the town branch with debt worries were in arrears with council tax payments, compared with 28% two years ago.
She added: “Every day Ipswich Citizens Advice helps people who are struggling to keep up with their council tax debt repayments.
“More clients than ever before are coming to us with bailiff letters relating to council tax arrears.
“We are concerned that because councils are using bailiffs to enforce payments, disproportionate charges are being added to debts.
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“It’s right to look at the tactics which are working and those that aren’t. As it stands, we know that many people can be put under greater financial strain when their debt gets hiked by extra charges, or they have a bailiff knocking at their front door.”
In 2012 changes were made to the Welfare Reform Act which saw a number of means-tested benefits, including child tax credit and housing benefit, replaced with Universal Credit.
Then in 2016 there were further amendments, which were met with huge criticism, such as a lower benefit cap and a four-year freeze on certain social security benefits and tax credits.
Ms van Helfteren said: “We are helping people who are at the sharp end of welfare reform – delays in benefits payments and changes to the way Universal Credit is paid have pushed clients who are already managing on very little over the edge into arrears.”
Many people in Ipswich are today using credit cards to pay priority bills like utilities and council tax, Ms van Helfteren added.
An IBC spokesman said: “Some of the owed money is still being recovered and we do take a range of enforcement action when and where we can as long as it is financially realistic to do so.
“The council works with householders who are having difficulty making payments to try, where possible, to agree on a repayment schedule before any enforcement action is taken.”
Council tax revenue for borough residents goes toward the cost of services provided by IBC, Suffolk County Council and Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner.