The charity Citizens’ Advice have warned that the number of people having difficulty keeping up with their council tax payments is on the increase, with 17% more people asking for advice on this issue in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same time last year. 27,000 people who were behind with their Council Tax payments came to the charity for help and this means that this kind of debt has become the most common problem above credit card and personal loan debt. Taken as a whole, 20% of those asking for advice need it in regards to Council Tax and, worryingly, this does not only concern the unemployed – almost half the people who went to the Citizens’ Advice for help were in work.
Changes in benefit schemes have made things difficult for many
In April 2013, council tax benefit was changed to council tax support schemes, which are run locally and so don’t give everyone the same level of help. This is not dependent on employment status but is means tested, so applicants need to be on a very low salary if they are working, before they can qualify. Council tax benefit was a level playing field and so every area of the country got the same level on benefit and the fact that this is no longer the case is bringing hardship to many. Most people with council tax debt are not just struggling with those payments, of course. Of those who sought advice on council tax arrears most had at least one other area of concern, often more.
Council tax can be a family’s tipping point
For many people struggling on a difficult financial tightrope, one more thing can tip them off and currently council tax is frequently that thing. As Gillian Guy, Citizens’ Advice chief executive has said, ‘Consumer debts like credit cards and personal loans have traditionally been the most common debt problems that come through our doors, but since the end of council tax benefit we’ve seen council tax arrears problems go through the roof.’
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