Local debt expert makes last-ditch plea for rethink of council tax support scheme cuts

Bowes Park resident Jamie Thunder warns that many more of the borough’s poorest residents “will face bailiffs knocking on their door” as a result of changes proposed by Enfield Council, reports James Cracknell

Enfield Civic Centre and (inset) Jamie Thunder
Enfield Civic Centre and (inset) Jamie Thunder

A former debt advisor has warned that the looming cut to Enfield’s council tax support scheme would impose “a huge burden” on the borough’s most vulnerable people.

Enfield Council last year consulted on reductions to its council tax support (CTS) scheme and is set to finalise the proposals next week on the eve of the 2024/25 civic centre budget being agreed on Thursday (22nd).

But Jamie Thunder, a former debt advisor from Bowes Park who now works for an anti-poverty charity, has made a last-minute plea for the council to rethink the changes because, he says, it would likely force many of the poorest families in Enfield into debt – putting further pressure on local services such as foodbanks.

A report published today and due to be agreed by cabinet members on Wednesday (21st) outlines the changes to the CTS scheme in Enfield, with the headline change being a new maximum discount for working age claimants of 50% – a reduction from the current maximum of 75.5%.

The CTS will also be restricted to properties in band C or smaller, while some protected groups currently eligible for a full 100% deduction on their council tax bill – including disabled people, carers and Universal Credit claimants – will now have to start paying 50% of their bills, amounting to more than £800 per year for those in band C properties.

The only working-age protected groups remaining in the new scheme are single people under 25 and war widows.

Jamie told the Dispatch: “Enfield’s council tax support proposals would impose a huge burden on low-income households, including carers and disabled people. As a debt adviser I saw first-hand the stress and misery this can cause – and often with little or no financial benefit to the council.

“If they do go ahead, then it’s inevitable that people will either get into council tax arrears and face bailiffs knocking on their door demanding money they just don’t have – or they’ll miss other bills or rely on foodbanks as they try to keep up with their council tax.

“The council should think again, and not force this sort of impossible choice upon its lowest-income households.”

In its report due to be discussed next week, the council outlines why reductions to the CTS are necessary, claiming that the cost of the current scheme is “the highest in London” and that “one of the objectives of this proposal is to reduce the scheme total cost to closer to the London average”.

It adds: “In 2013/14 the government provided the council with £25m to finance this scheme. Since this time, council funding levels have reduced by 32% and at the same time the total cost of the scheme has grown to £40.7m. This means that unlike other universal benefits which are funded from central government, council tax support is financed by councils, through a combination of council tax, business rates and the balance of the original government grant.”

Without changes to the CTS, it is estimated the scheme’s cost could “potentially rise to above £50m by May 2026”, while the changes if implemented would “bring the overall scheme costs closer to the London average of £22m”.

But Jamie warns that the proposed level of savings may not fully materialise since many residents will simply not have the money to pay and will instead fall into arrears. Last year he obtained data under the Freedom of Information Act which showed the council sent bailiffs to 1,371 people in receipt of the maximum CTS during 2022/23, and that in such cases where enforcement agents have been used only £262,849 has been paid out of a total £746,343 owed to the council – leaving around two-thirds still unpaid.

The Dispatch has asked the council how many more households it expects to fall into arrears as a result of its CTS changes but has not received a response.

The council has said it will be increasing its hardship fund for residents by £1m, to £1.5m, however, Jamie warns: “The proposed increased value of the hardship fund will not come close to undoing the damaging effects of these proposals, and because it must be actively applied for, there will inevitably be some people who need it who it will not reach. It’s a wholly inadequate response.”

Jamie has advised people to seek help if they are struggling. He said: “Anyone who’s struggling with their council tax debts should look for free, independent debt advice, which can help you understand your options – which in some cases can include writing off council tax debts.”

Enfield Council did not respond to a request for comment.

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