MORE than 1,800 of the poorest families in Hartlepool are facing court action for not paying their council tax.
Hartlepool Borough Council has issued court summons to 1,878 people – out of around 6,000 who were required to start paying an amount of their council tax bill following Government reforms in May.
The parliamentary decision which saw 100 per cent council tax benefit scrapped meant that councils had to implement their own council tax support system.
Hartlepool Borough Council started to ask the town’s residents, including the unemployed and disabled, for an 8.5 per cent contribution.
People summoned to court could potentially have money deducted from their wages or benefits, have property seized by bailiffs, or be sent to prison for up to three months if the cases are found against them.
It comes as Hartlepool Citizens’ Advice Bureau, in Park Road, has revealed that there has been a 40 per cent increase in town residents seeking help for council tax arrears compared to 2011- 2012.
Despite the figures, Hartlepool Borough Council Leader Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher said: “The council is doing everything it can to help people who are struggling to pay their council tax.
“The Government has cut the council tax benefit funding which it gives to Hartlepool council by over 13 per cent, which means that the council is no longer able to provide the amount of help with council tax which it did previously and the council has strongly protested to the Government about this.
“Despite this Government cut, the council has implemented a Local Council Tax Support Scheme which is restricting the cut in council tax help for working age households to 8.5 per cent - a considerable achievement given that many other councils have cut their support by 20 per cent or more.
“To help further, we also offer people flexible options for how they pay their council tax. For example, they can pay weekly, fortnightly or monthly and can also use the Paypoint card system which allows them to pay at many corner shops seven days a week, or at post offices.”
He added: “We only pursue court action after all other avenues for recovering the outstanding council Tax have been explored.”
Joe Michna, manager at Hartlepool’s Citizens’ Advice Bureau (CAB), in Park Road, Hartlepool, said: “We have seen quite a number of people having problems with paying their council tax. A lot of people still do not think that they have to pay. Many people are having problems with budgeting and finding the money to pay the council tax.
“For many people it is a completely new experience having to pay council tax as they have never had to pay for it before and have not budgeted for it or find it very difficult to budget for.
“Our advice is to seek advice early particularly if they have other debts. We classified Council tax payments as a priority debt and therefore it gets preference over over debts when we are negotiating on behalf of clients.
“We also advise clients to make early contact with the council if they are having problems keeping up with their payments.”
He added: “We offer a full and comprehensive debt advice service and any body struggling to pay their Council tax should contact us either for debt or budgeting advice.
The figures come from a Freedom of Information Request by the Labour Party.