Charity warning over Leeds council tax debt trap

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hundreds of residents are finding themselves spiralling into debt in Leeds, a charity has warned.

And Leeds-based debt charity StepChange has said it has seen an increase in the number of people struggling to pay their council tax bills.

The news comes after the YEP revealed yesterday that Leeds City Council was trying to claw back millions of pounds in unpaid taxes.

Bailiffs have knocked on doors in the city more than 50 times a day to recover council tax debts over the last financial year.

Figures revealed that the city’s outstanding unpaid council tax bill is almost £19m – a sum that has accumulated over the last four years.

More residents, who are out of work but of working age, are having to pay for their council tax under the new Council Tax Support Scheme.

But charities have warned they are seeing residents’ debt woes compounded by the knock-on effect of the Government’s so-called Bedroom Tax as a result of new under-occupancy charges.

A spokesman from StepChange said: “We have seen a marked increase in the numbers of people struggling with Council Tax bills as well as other essential living costs like rent and energy bills.

“This highlights how just meeting the basic cost of living is becoming increasingly hard for a number of families.

“Changes to the benefits system including the introduction of localised Council Tax support risks worsening the position of financially vulnerable households.

“Local councils need to address how they plan to protect those people facing acute short-term financial difficulty and not expose them to greater hardship through aggressive enforcement action by bailiffs.”

Figures show that 2,800 tenants receiving housing benefit who had clear rent accounts before the change, which came into effect in April, have fallen behind on their payments as the Bedroom Tax starts to bite.

Last month Leeds City Council reclassified 937 homes as having fewer bedrooms than previously designated to help tenants who are struggling with their bills.

Marilyn Banister, money advice supervisor from Leeds Citizens Advice Bureau, added: “We’re seeing more and more people with a deficit budget and we just can’t make it balance.

“It has a pretty devastating impact on people’s lives.

“They’re going without food and turning to foodbanks but it’s not a long-term solution.

“We try to see if there is anywhere they can cut back but usually there isn’t and it’s very difficult for advisors to feel like we’re helping at all. It’s something that will get worse.”

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