What was the problem?
Until 2012 people dependent on means tested benefits or other very low incomes did not have to pay any Council Tax(CT). They could apply for a national CT Reduction scheme that reduced their CT liability to zero; but in 2012 the government devolved responsibility for Council Tax Reduction to local authorities and reduced the funds available for their schemes. As a result from 2016 the Conservative led Richmond Council imposed a minimum CT charge on all residents in the borough except pensioners and those receiving very specific disability benefits. This had a devastating effect on the poorest residents in the borough. As benefit rates had not been increased to cope with rising prices since 2016 they were already struggling to pay for basic living expenses with no money over to pay Council Tax.
*Diana provides a good example of the hardship involved. She is a single woman in her 50s, unemployed for a long time and dependent on Jobseekers’ Allowance of £73.58 a week. To avoid falling into debt on such a low income she had already cut back on what most people would consider essential living expenses:
- She bought no new clothes or shoes
- She seldom had heating in her flat even in the middle of winter
- She had no TV to avoid having to pay for a TV licence
- She had no Oyster card and walked long distances in all weathers to avoid travel costs
- She used her mobile phone only to receive calls, not to make them
- She spent only £25 a week on food and frequently applied to the Food Bank whenever she could not afford to buy food in order to pay her utility bills.
Having to pay an extra £15 a month for Council Tax forced her to cut back even further on heating and food at serious risk to her health.
What we did to tackle it
We campaigned vigorously against the imposition of the minimum Council Tax charge every year from the moment when it was first proposed for 2016 and in October 2017 sent a report to the Council highlighting the financial hardship caused by the minimum charge and arguing for it to be scrapped or drastically reduced. Our report was taken up by the Liberal Democrat opposition to the Council who made it a manifesto commitment in the Council elections in 2018 to remove any minimum charge if elected.
Success after three years’ campaigning!
The Liberal Democrats won the election with a large majority and have implemented the recommendations of our report by introducing a Council Tax scheme for 2019/20 that abolishes any level of Council Tax for the poorest residents in the borough. It has been calculated that this change will save the 2600 poorest households in the borough a total of more than £400,000 a year.