A LEGAL CHALLENGE TO HARINGEY COUNCIL'S PROPOSALS TO TAX BENEFITS WITH 20% OF THE COUNCIL TAX.

14 January 2013

A LEGAL CHALLENGE TO HARINGEY COUNCIL'S PROPOSALS TO TAX BENEFITS WITH 20% OF THE COUNCIL TAX.

I am supporting two vulnerable residents of Haringey, who must remain anonymous, who have received legal aid and are challenging Haringey's proposal to tax their benefits with 20% of the council tax. I am working with their lawyers and supporting them in a personal capacity as an Anglican Clergyman, a campaigner against poverty and fellow resident of Haringey Borough. I live in Tottenham, close to the gutted Carpet Right building.

Entirely relevant to the thinking of TAP is Haringey Council's estimate that it would need an average council tax increase of £45 a year, or 86 pence a week on Band D, to keep the 100% council tax benefit. I am letting it be known that I would be willing to pay that rather than see the reducing benefit incomes of my poorest fellow citizens be taxed from £3.18 - £7.43 a week council tax, on top of the caps and cuts, while the prices of necessities escalate. This option was not available in Haringey's consultation.

I can be quoted as saying "Central government throws hand-grenades into local government finances and into the welfare system, and then stands back to admire the damage; it would cost Haringey council tax payers an average increase of £45* a year, or 86 pence a week, to keep the 100% council tax benefit; an increase I am willing to pay", said the Rev Paul Nicolson.

* Haringey Council's figure.

A "LETTER BEFORE ACTION" TO HARINGEY COUNCIL 

Lawyers sent a "letter before action" on Friday 11th January to Haringey Council giving them the opportunity to consider options at the council meeting on the 17th January, other than their sole option of taxing benefits with 20% of the council tax, with the clear threat of immediate court action should changes not be made.

The principle concerns in the letter are;

  • The Council have not carried out a lawful consultation and that it is irrationally proposing not to take advantage of the funds made available by the Department for Communities and Local Government Transitional Grant Scheme of over £700,000.
  • If the decision is taken in line with the proposals, the Council will have failed to have due regard to the needs specified under the Equality Act 2010 in relation to the impact of this scheme on disabled children and pregnant and nursing mothers.
  • The vulnerable claimants in this case are extremely concerned about their ability to meet their essential household expenses if a further tax is placed upon their benefit incomes. The tax will be reducing the already limited and reducing incomes of these residents to pay for food, fuel, clothes and transport

THE DETAILS OF THE CASE

The consultation did not invite residents to state whether they thought that the Council should have taken one of three available options:

  • To proceed with the preferred option of taxing benefits by the proposed figure of roughly 20% and not taking up the transitional grant;
  • Taking up the transitional grant, increasing Council Tax bills by the maximum permissible 8.5% and making up the £1.5m shortfall from reserves, cuts to services, an increase in the headline rate of Council Tax or any combination of the above; or
  • Taking up the transitional grant, retaining the current level of exemptions and reductions and making up the larger shortfall (which we assume would be £3.1m) from any combination of the measures outlined at 2 above. Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 (the Public Sector Equality Duty)

If the decision is taken in line with the proposals, the Council will have failed to have due regard to the needs specified under the Act in relation to the impact of this scheme on disabled children and pregnant and nursing mothers.

FAMILIES WITH DISABLED CHILDREN

The report ‘Counting the Costs 2012 - The financial reality for families with disabled children across the UK’ from the charity Contact a Family has been sent to the council. It states as its key findings that of the survey of 2,312 families with disabled children across the UK:

  • 1 in 6 (17%) is going without food.
  • More than 1 in 5 (21%) is going without heating.
  • A quarter (26%) are going without specialist equipment or adaptations.
  • 86% have gone without leisure and days out
  • Almost a third (29%) have taken out a loan - 39% for food and heating
  • 1 in 5 (21%) have been threatened with court action for failing to keep up with payments – the majority for missing utility bill payments (46%)
  • Over one in ten (11%) have already been affected by benefit changes.
  • The healthy nutrition of women before and during pregnancy.

PREGNANT AND NURSING MOTHERS

Haringey ‘does not collect information about claimants maternity status so the impact on this characteristic is not known’ is plainly insufficient for the Council to meet its obligations under the Equality Act.

The Institute for Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University is a leading centre of research into the importance of human nutrition and health. Its research is led by Professor Michael Crawford, who has established a relationship between poor maternal nutrition and low birth-weight before conception and during pregnancy.

By way of example, three wards in Haringey had among the highest rates of low birth weight between 2007 and 2009; compared to a national average of 7.53%, Tottenham Green recorded 12.5%, St Ann’s 9.4% and Haringey 11.62%. The average for Haringey is 7.63%.

The two people I am supporting are extremely concerned about their ability to meet their essential household expenses if a further tax is placed upon them. The tax will be reducing the already limited incomes needed needed to pay for food and fuel, clothes and transport.

BENEFITS ALREADY HIT BY CENTRAL GOVERNMENT

They have already been hit by;

  • the prices of food, fuel, clothes and transport increasing faster than benefits due to the move of up-rating from RPI to CPI.
  • The value of benefits will decrease further if the Bill to freeze increases at 1% gets through Parliament.
  • There are 6837 adult claimants receiving job-seekers allowance at £71 a week up to the age of 60,
  • and 476 unemployed couples with two children with JSA at £258 who will have to pay the tax from £3.18 a week to £7.43 a week.
  • That £71 a week and that £258 also have to pay the rent not paid by the capped housing benefit and due to the coming £500 overall benefit cap.

 

Rev Paul Nicolson
93 Campbell Road,
Tottenham,
London N17 0BF
0208 3765455
07961 177889
http://www.taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk
also at http://www.z2k.org
also at http://www.prohousingalliance.com
http://www.taxpayersagainstpoverty.org.uk
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Taxpayers-Against-Poverty/299911526728884


LATEST NEWS