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Over 5,000 Wycombe taxpayers summoned to court
OVER 5,000 Wycombe district residents were summoned to court for falling behind with council tax payments in the first six months of the year - a rise of 30 per cent.
Labour has blamed Tory controlled Wycombe District Council's decision to slash council tax benefits for the 'poorest' earlier this year.
But the council said its policy, which kept a tax freeze in place, had been strongly supported by the public.
5,139 notices were sent in the first half of 2013/14 compared to 3,989 for the same period last year. In April WDC cut the money given to about 4,500 claimants on the old system of council tax benefits by 20 per cent cut - an average of about £300 a year. The alternative would have been a rise of £13 on average for all council taxpayers.
Pensioners and the vulnerable were, however, excluded from the cut. WDC had to save between £85,000 to £112,000 after the Government slashed funding and scrapped the old system.
Councillor Ian Bates, Labour group leader on WDC, said: "WDC decided to make things even worse for the poorest in Wycombe. It decided to pass on Government cuts to council tax benefits so that the poorest people in Wycombe, those already reeling from the 'bedroom tax' and other cuts, now have to pay council tax."
He called the figures showing council tax arrears "deeply worrying" and indicated further that thousands of ordinary people in Wycombe are struggling to pay their bills. He said: "People now they have to choose between eating, heating and a roof over their heads.
More people aren't paying their council tax and are being summoned to court.
And winter isn’t even here yet. "
WDC had to create a new scheme after the Government abolished the old council tax benefits and consulted with residents on what form this would take.
WDC spokesman Sue Robinson said: "The final scheme was supported by the majority of respondents."
A Free Press online poll showed 82 per cent (2,860 votes) were against a £13 per year rise in council tax in order to prevent benefit claimants losing £300 per year.
Mrs Robinson said: "WDC aims to work with all people who are struggling to pay their council tax especially where genuine hardship exists. The best advice for people who fall into this category is to contact WDC as quickly as possible for advice.
"We recognised that there would be hardship cases and in response to this created a Discretionary Fund to help customers as they adjust to reduced levels of support."
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