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Charity accuses Waltham Forest Council of failing to protect residents from hardship following council tax reforms
A charity has criticised Waltham Forest Council for not doing enough to protect vulnerable people affected by council tax benefit changes.
Coalition government welfare reforms mean claimants can no longer receive 100 per cent council tax benefit.
Waltham Forest Council set the rate that claimants must pay at 8.5 per cent, which will rise to 15 per cent on April 1.
In an attempt to minimise the impact, the council introduced the Council Tax Exceptional Hardship Relief Scheme and set aside a budget in 2013/14 of £150,000.
The objective of the scheme is “to support local people experiencing exceptional hardship and who are unable to pay their council tax.”
But according to details released under the Freedom of Information Act, as of March 4 none of the money set aside had been used, despite the council receiving 14 applications.
The information released to the Guardian by anti-poverty charity Z2K also shows between April and December last year, 3,255 residents were summoned to court for non-payment of council tax.
Joanna Kennedy, chief executive of Z2K, said: "We are disappointed that Waltham Forest has chosen to increase this tax on their poorest residents.
"Thousands of people in Waltham Forest struggling to pay have already received court summons and had £120 costs added to their debt, this number will only increase with the higher payment.
"At the same time the council has failed to award a single penny of the exceptional hardship scheme allocated to support these residents".
Councillor Mark Rusling, cabinet member for economic development and corporate resources, said the council had no choice but to introduce a 15 per cent council tax scheme as a result of the government's 'cost-shunting exercise', and none of the hardship fund applicants immediately qualified for support.
He added: "The council’s scheme was set at 15% and it is wrong to suggest the percentage has been increased as we were able to reduce the percentage to 8.5% for the first year partly because of some one-off funding and also because of resources from changes to council tax discounts.
"The only way we could implement a 0% rise in this borough would be to plug an annual funding gap of £3m and that would only be possible if we were to divert money away from other services such as schools, social care and libraries year after year. We are simply not prepared to do that.
"Of the 13 applications made to the hardship fund that have been assessed, none immediately qualified for support, largely because the relevant proof of income and expenditure was not supplied.
"Despite requesting this information, none of the claimants subsequently provided the necessary proof and interestingly nine of them have since paid their Council Tax contributions in full, with three more paying by instalments."
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