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Council tax debts cripple England's poorest citizens

Council tax debts cripple England's poorest citizens
Cuts to the benefit system have thrown more than two million of England’s poorest and most vulnerable to the brink of ruin, as council tax demands continue to rise.

Among the 2.31 million people who stand to lose all or a substantial share of their council tax support are the disabled, carers, and war widows, The Independent reports. Council tax benefit used to provide nearly £5 billion (US$8.4 billion) to 5.9 million people.

With a cut of nearly half a billion pounds to local authorities from the central government, visits from bailiffs and home evictions are on the rise as debts mount up. Those unable to pay are facing court summons, as poverty is effectively becoming criminalized.

Figures from local UK authorities, released following a series of Freedom of Information requests, reveal that 409,000 disabled people and 112,000 carers have seen their council tax increase. Meanwhile, 3,600 war widows have also been hit.

Councils have been forced to make savings elsewhere since the government grant was cut by £300 million ($509 million) in 2013 and by £400 million ($678 million) this year, equating to around 10 percent of the total fund.

Placing the poorest in the firing line, the central government has banned councils from cutting council tax benefits to pensioners, who make up 2.2 million of those receiving support nationally. To protect the elderly from the demands of taxation, the burden of cuts falls on young people, the unemployed, and low income families.

Citizens Advice Bureau reports that one in five people with council tax arrears who contacted the charity also have credit card or store card debt, and one in 20 have mortgage arrears.

“Bills are still piling high for some people even as the economy looks brighter,” said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice Bureau.

“We found three in five people are worried about rising bills this year and over half are cutting spending to cope. It is often the basic bills that people struggle to pay,” she said.

“One in five people reporting debt problems to Citizens Advice has a council tax debt issue, which is now the number one debt problem we help with. The legacy of the recession has pushed more people toward high-cost short-term credit in order to pay their bills.”