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Council Tax Benefit cuts forcing families “to choose between staying on the right side of the law or feed themselves”

11 October 2013

As new data reveal that more than 100,000 people have been issued with court summonses for Council Tax arrears, Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy said:

“The huge and damaging impact of cuts to Council Tax support is stark. Many families are being forced to choose between staying on the right side of the law or feed themselves.  

“For the majority of people we help in our bureaux the problem is not that they won’t pay, but that they can’t pay.  The system of support for Council Tax Benefit used to offer a helping hand to households, now too often all it offers families is the long arm of the law.

“With millions facing hard times, families need a justice system and a safety net which helps them to get back on their feet, not which forces them further into the red through costly and harsh legal action.  Citizens Advice Bureaux are seeing people face aggressive bailiff action and turning to exploitative payday lenders as a result of Council Tax arrears.

“Last year our Citizens Advice Bureaux helped people with more than 150,000 issues of Council Tax arrears.  Court summonses can be the result of a toxic mix of competing pressures that households are facing, with cuts to support combining with high living costs to force many people into debt.  Many people, particularly in more deprived areas, already struggled to pay their bills and for some the cut to Council Tax support tipped them over the edge.

“With more than one hundred thousand families pushed into an already over-burdened court system, taxpayers as well as individual families are paying a heavy price for these reforms.  Clogging up the court system with hard-pressed, hard-working families who simply cannot make ends meet is not only harsh but is counter-productive and will end up costing taxpayers money.

“Citizens Advice Bureaux are working hard to help people when debts spiral out of control and end up facing legal action, but severe cuts to the legal aid funding are creating a justice gap with many people unable to get fair treatment.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.