Telegraph column by Shirley Frost: Another twist to the tax debate

Chair of Westfieeld & Halfway Tennants Association Shirley Frost.
Chair of Westfieeld & Halfway Tennants Association Shirley Frost.

The benefits justice campaign’s Shirley Frost, of Halfway, gives her view on the prospect of a council tax rise in Sheffield

Since April 2013 thousands of people have been made to pay an increase of 23 per cent on their council tax, where before they were deemed too poor to pay anything and so were exempt.

This was demanded against an income which included a variety of benefits needed to keep body and soul together already deemed necessary by government rules. In other words the increase was callously levied regardless of ability to pay, helping to drive desperate individuals and families to advice centres and food banks in order to survive.

Thus the council has found a way to do the impossible - to get blood out of a stone by hauling them before the magistrates courts, deducting money from benefits or simply blackmailing them to agree to pay money they don’t have. For thousands of tenants this was on top of being hit with the vindictive bedroom tax and other benefit cuts.

Many such people are actually working but still need benefit top-ups to cover all their basic essentials. Others simply suffer from disabilities and cannot work.

This was the result of a political choice triggered by the abolition of the Council Tax Benefit Scheme and substitution by the council’s own Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS).

Many councils did not do this, identifying other means to absorb the funding shortfall partially or totally. The council has claimed in many reports that their first principle is to focus on those with the greatest need – the latest being their Budget Conversation presentation.

The council will say that they already help such people through various discounts and exemptions or short term grants. That is true for people already familiar with the system.

What we are concerned with is those who suddenly received a council tax bill without any explanation and have no prior knowledge or experience of such things.

If they had, how would they have ended up in court with courts costs added to their bills. The continuing public debate needs to emphasise that those who have the broadest shoulders and can afford to pay more tax should do so. Sheffield councillors need to show more backbone and join those councils who have already made it clear to the Chancellor that more and more cuts cannot be sustained.

The austerity programme of £1 trillion plus, to bail out the reckless banks, is being paid for by people who had no part in that, while the rich get richer. This cannot stand.

Countless impact reports have shown the devastation this is having on the poorest in society.