There has been a huge surge in the number of low-income families summoned to court over unpaid council tax, new research shows.
New research published by False Economy shows an increase of more than 500,000 court summons in England, as the poorest households are hit by a £490 million cut in council tax support.
And the problem is set to get even worse, as one in seven local authorities plan further cuts in the support available to families struggling to pay council tax bills.
The TUC believes this will result in the poorest families facing even higher council tax demands and lead to a rise in the number summoned to court.
Figures show that more than 3 million people in England were taken to court by local authorities in 2013/14 over unpaid council tax. This represents a 25% rise on the previous year.
Council Tax Benefit was scrapped by the government and replaced by the Council Tax Support Scheme (CTS) in 2013/14. The change meant that councils in England were allowed to develop their own support schemes, but were also forced to accept a 10% in funding from central government for those schemes.
Only a small number of councils chose to keep full council tax support for low-income families. Vulnerable pensioners were unaffected by the changes and are still entitled to have their council tax bills fully paid.
According to figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), around 2.5 million low-income families were affected by a reduction in council tax support in the first year of the scheme.
Where councils introduced minimum council tax payments for the poorest households, court summons increased by 30%. Only 9% of local authorities continue to offer full council tax relief.
The research by False Economy also found that households who qualified for CTS, and who were subject to minimum council tax payment requirements, accounted for 58% of the rise in court summonses.
According to the research, people who are struggling to pay council tax bills are routinely being affected by deductions in benefits and targeted by bailiffs.
A False Economy spokesperson said: “Council tax support cuts have caused chaos for families and households, and also for councils.
“They are leaving people out of pocket and in debt, which is also bad for local businesses that depend on them as customers.
“Councils are now pursuing people through the courts for money they do not have. It is a shambles made by a cabinet of millionaires in a government that has been completely out of touch with reality.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Slashing council tax support has been one of the government’s cruellest cuts.
“It was foolish for ministers to think that families who can’t afford to heat their homes can pay new tax bills for hundreds of pounds.
“And it is heartless for them to stand by as the poorest families are hauled through the courts and harassed by bailiffs.
“If anyone is to be hit with higher taxes it should be the fat cats in the boardrooms and those corporations that are dodging paying their fair share, not the poorest working-age households in the UK.”