Councils across the UK are facing High Court action after vulnerable residents launched legal action challenging controversial new council tax policies which they claim will “hit the poor hardest”.
The Government has abolished Council Tax Benefit in favour of a local rebate scheme which is implemented separately by every council, but the funding made available to local authorities has been reduced by 10 percent, leaving them with a shortfall to make up if they wish to keep income from council tax at the same level. The Government will save £470m under the new scheme.
But today, law firm Irwin Mitchell launched legal action against five councils after being instructed by residents who believe proposals in their region are unfair (Birmingham, Haringey, Hackney, Rochdale and Sheffield).
Lawyers at the firm say they have also been contacted by others affected and are investigating several further councils as the authorities make their decisions public following today’s deadline to inform government of their new charges.
A Judicial Review brought by Irwin Mitchell on behalf of a resident against Haringey Council is set to be heard at the High Court in London on Tuesday 5th February. It is argued that the council’s decision to reject a special government grant is irrational and that the consultations they undertook in deciding their rebate levels were unlawful.
Haringey Council’s proposed new scheme will require all residents who previously paid nothing, except disabled people, to pay 20% of their council tax.
Councils were told by the Government that by limiting council tax rebates to 8.5%, the local authority would receive a grant to help with the shortfall. However, some councils have chosen not to accept this grant and are expecting residents who previously qualified for a full 100% rebate, to now pay up to 20% of their council tax, something which one council acknowledges “they were last subjected to under the Poll Tax.”
Irwin Mitchell also allege that some councils have made decisions that are in breach of their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. They are asking councils to quash their decisions and re-consult with residents.
Alex Rook, a specialist lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who is representing residents across the UK in their battle against the tax increases, said: “Residents are facing a postcode lottery as to how the new council tax rebate system will be implemented.
“People living across the road from each other but technically in different boroughs could face a significantly different council tax bill simply because different councils have different policies.
“Some councils are passing on cuts from the Government to everyone other than pensioners, hitting the poorest hardest. One of our clients is a single mother caring for her severely disabled nephew and she is simply not going to be able to make these extra payments. Our clients are devastated at the thought of this additional burden when they are already struggling to pay for basics such as food and heating.”
Mr Rook added that during the consultations the concern is that councils have not sufficiently presented the options to local residents as to whether the councils should dip into reserves, increase council tax or look at other ways to make sure that they do not pass this cut on to the poorest people in the Borough.
Research by the Resolution Foundation, also
published today, estimates a typical bill will rise from April by between £100 and £250 a year, but some could rise as much as £600.