Category Archives: Poverty

Court Cases, Chaos and Soaring Debt As Council Tax Reform Unravels

cant-pay wont payThe shambolic postcode lottery which has emerged after reforms to Council Tax Benefit is creating chaos for Local Authorities and driving some people into desperate poverty.

Prior to the non-election of this government most people on out of work benefits were not required to pay council tax.  This was because they didn’t have any money.  This system functioned reasonably well and ensured that sick, disabled or unemployed people were not simply paying back half of their meagre benefits to local government.

Despite this the Tories decided to tear up the rulebook and hand over the powers for helping the poorest pay their council tax to local authorities giving them free reign to charge whatever they chose.  And to ensure maximum carnage, the amount of money made available for the new Council Tax Suppot scheme was cut by 10%.

Sadly many councils approached this chance to attack their most marginalised residents with barely disguised glee.  Some, like Tendring Borough Council, launched a ludicrous local people only scheme, with those new to the area facing full council tax bills even if they didn’t have a penny to their name.  Others, like Leeds City Council, are flirting with the idea of some form of forced workfare or jobsearch sessions for people struggling to pay their council tax.  This would presumably be in addition to the 35 hours a week mandated ‘work related activity’ that unemployed people must now carry out as a condition of their main benefits.

Elsewhere local councils dithered, often with such badly explained changes that many people only found out they were now eligible to pay some of their Council Tax when a court summons arrived.  Ths has led to mass court hearings with hundreds of people in some areas facing costly legal action often over just a couple of pounds a week.  Citizens Advice reported in May this year that council tax arrears are now the most common debt problem reported to them.  Unsuprisingly the cost of taking all these people to court has soared with the latest statistics showing a record £233 million was spent chasing council tax debt in 2013/14 – a rise of over £20 million in just one year.

These have not been the only court casess that some local authorities have found themselves emroiled in.  An important court judgement against Sandwell Council earlier in the year ruled that their policy that people should have lived in the area for two years before receiving a council tax reduction was illegal on six seperate grounds.  This has forced the previously mentioned Tendring Council to also change their local people only rule – and already they are attempting to shift the cost onto their poorest residents by slashing Council Tax Support even further.

Last month Haringey Council were also hit with a court ruling that they had failed to consult properly on reforms to Council Tax Benefit.  The council were found to have misled residents by claiming that they had no choice but to force people on beneifts to pay some council tax.   They weren’t the only ones who attempted this devious approach either.  Many more local authorities could now find that their Council Tax Support policies are unlawful due to bungled, or more correctly biased consultations.

Like so many of this Government’s policies, changes to council tax benefit have only hit the poorest and most voiceless people in the country.  If this was being happening to the latte-slurping middle classes we would never fucking hear about anything else.  Millionaire comedians would be crying in the newspapers about how hard done by they are.  Yet whilst the well off are promised income tax cuts, people living on just a few pounds a week are being plunged into council tax debt.  Arrears have risen by 20% since the reforms were introduced.  The massive growth in benefit sanctions have meant that many unemployed people now have no income at all – but they are still eligible to pay council tax.  Nobody even really knows how many thousands of people are currently being dragged through the courts for non-payment and who could even face prison as a punishment for their poverty.

It is not just those on out of work benefits who have been hit hard by the changes.  Many of the lowest paid are now also eligible to pay some, or more council tax than they were previously.  The poorer you are, the more of your money this Government wants.  And they do not care how much chaos they inflict to get it.

Apologies for the dead link that was wrongly sent out to email subscibers about this post yesterday.

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Grass Up Your Neighbours Say The DWP With Another Boring Benefit Fraud Campaign

dwp-benefit-fraudWith the amount of money lost to fraud and error in the benefit system reaching record highs under this Government, the DWP has issued a call for people to grass up their nieghbours if they suspect them of low level benefit fraud, or even going on holiday.

The latest boringly predictable campaign is not aimed at high level organised fraud, such as people setting up fake identities to claim benefits.  Neither is it aimed at landlords picking up Housing Benefit cheques long after tenants have departed, or exploitative employers paying cash to cut down on their National Insurance bill – or even dodge the minimum wage.  It is not just a fraction of a parcentage of claimants who benefit from working cash in hand, but often the latte slurping middle classes who are quite happy to look the other way if it gets them a cheap builder.

Instead this campaign is aimed at struggling single parents who might have a partner staying a few times or week, or sick or disabled people whose condition has improved slightly.  Or even people on benefits taking a short break away from home.  According to the department a range of “television and radio adverts, posters, letters and Facebook ads ” have been produced warning claimants they face jail for failing to report a change in cirumstances.   This new campaign is not about saving money, it is about ensuring claimants lead a life of misery and fear.

At the heart of the new campaign is the Benefit Fraud Hotline.  This is the telephone line that people can ring anonymously to stich up their neighbours, ex-partners or anyone else they may have taken a dislike to.  Barely any prosecutions result from these calls and the vast majority are simply malicious.  There are no consequences for those making false allegations.  And there  should be.  Anyone who rings this hotline for any reason other than to grass up a Tory councillor  is a filthy fucking scab who should be shunned by their communities.

The rules on benefit fraud are breath-takingly complex.  There is no clear information on when you should declare yourself fit for work and end a claim for sickness or disability benefits.  A single parent who has a partner staying a few nights a week may or may not be breaking the law, and might only find out themselves when they are threatened with prosecution for having a shag.  If someone on the dole is offered fifty quid to clear someone’s garden they are  expected to immediately report that to the Jobcentre – throwing their claim into chaos and ensuring they will barely see a penny for their work.  Yet these people, scraping by to survive, are now seen as the worst kind of criminals and splashed across the front pages.

Of course when the well off commit benefit fraud there is no such outrage.  HMRC recently sent out letters to 30,000 high earning parents warning them they need to contact them to ensure they aren’t receiving too much child benefit.  They were supposed to have done this nearly two years ago.  A couple with two children will have scammed around £3000 that they are not entitled so far.  But no-one seems to really care.

The difference in language is staggering.  Reported in thisismoney.co.uk a Treasury spokesperson said: ‘These letters are simply designed to help taxpayers get their returns right by raising awareness of the High Income Child Benefit Charge (HICBC), and to remind customers who file under self assessment of the importance of including HICBC on their return.” 

Compare this to the comments made by the DWP about people  who are poor falsely claiming benefits: “At the Department for Work and Pensions we’re determined not to let benefit cheats get away with it. The majority of claimants are honest, so why should everyone else pay the price? We’re using all the resources available to track down cheats and make them face the consequences. … People who are caught deliberately withholding information needed for their benefit claim are benefit cheats.  They could face a range of consequences for their actions. For example:  …   serving a prison sentence”

There really are one set of laws for the poor, and very different laws for the rich.

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Snouts In The Trough: Legal Loan Shark Firm Cosies Up To Iain Duncan Smith At Tory Dinner

snouts-in-the-troughA company which harasses people in their homes to take out small loans with huge interest rates enjoyed a slap up meal with Iain Duncan Smith at the Tory Party’s Winter fundraising dinner.

The Bureax of Investigative Journalism revealed over the weekend that three executives of a doorstep lenders CLC Finance shared a table with the Secretary of State at the glitzy event where attendees were reported to have a combined wealth of £22 billion.  According to the website, they enjoyed a ‘wide-ranging discussion’with IDS on matters including Universal Credit.  Perhaps they discussed the propsed five week waiting period for the new benefit or the current benefit sanctioning regime which is forcing hundreds of thousands of people into debt and destitution.

CLC Finance are the kind of bastards who persuade you to take out a hundred quid loan and then want a hundred and fifty back from you over the next five months.  Their vile business model is based on the real poverty trap – the stark fact that if you are hungry, or your kid needs shoes, then you will be forced to make short term decisions that have negative consequences in the future.  This doesn’t just lead to poor people staying poor, it makes people in poverty poorer.

There has been no better friend to loan sharks, whether legal or otherwise, than Iain Duncan Smith.  One of his most vindictive welfare reforms was scrapping Crisis Loans, small advance payments which were repayable out of benefits and barely cost the tax payer a penny.  What they meant was that if someone’s oven broke down, they were a vicitm of crime, or faced a similar emergency, then they would not be dependent on scum like Wonga or CLC Finance.

The DWP’s first move was to divert the funding for Crisis Loans to Local Authorities and tell them they could do as they please with it.  Many set up foodstamp style voucher schemes, whilst some abandoned their poorest residents completely and simply sat on most of the money.  Then, at the beginning of this year and around the time of the Tory Fundraising Dinner, the Government announced they would be ending even this scant funding.  This decision prompted many councils to say they would no longer provide any emergency help at all.

A Judicial Review brought by Child Poverty Action Group has prompted the DWP to ‘rethink’ this decision, pending a recently launched pulic consultation.  Of course the real consultations take place around expensive dining tables where private sector poverty pimps cosy up to ministers and discuss ways to make themselves richer at the expense of the rest of us.

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Boom Time For Landlords, The UK’s Soaring Housing Benefit Bill

landlord-772876Whilst the Tory Party pat themselves on the back at conference for the misery their welfare reforms have caused, recently updated benefit expenditure figures  make a mockery of any claims that these vicious cuts were carried out to save money.

Housing Benefit (or Local Housing Allowance) makes up one of the largest parts of social security spending and every last penny of it goes to landlords.  Ever since this government weren’t elected they have made brutal cuts to this vital benefit which pays for the UK’s poorest people to have a roof over theirs heads.  Despite this the Housing Benefit bill is soaring and expcted to rise even further.

£24.8 billion was handed out to landlords in the form of Housing Benefit cheques in 2012/13 – the latest year for which exact figures are available.  This is a rise of £2.7 billion, in real terms annual spending on Housing Benefit since the Tories came to power.

Much of this increase is in payments to private sector landlords rather than towards  housing association or council rents.  But it is not soaring private rents that have caused the increase in spending, Housing Benefit rises are now capped at 1% annually whilst total caps on the amount landlords can receive are in place in high rent areas such as the South East of England.  It is claimants who have had to absorb the cost of rent rises, out of already meagre benefits.

Nor is the rise due to people who are unemployed.  Less than £4 bilion of the £24.8 bilion total Housing Benefit spend pays for accommodation for people on unemployment benefits.  Much of the rise is due to new claimants who are in work, which shows the true picture of the UK’s labour market.

Housing Benefit provides a good indicator of how many people in the UK are poor.  It is available to those in or out of work, as well as pensioners.  The only criteria for help with rent payments is an income low enough to qualify and less than £16,000 in assets.  The Tories may claim that the recovery is in full swing, and thousands of pretend jobs have been created, but that doesn’t change the harsh fact that there are now more people poor than at any point since the Housing Benefit system began.

This is reflected in the number of people actually claiming the benefit, which hit a record 5.05 million in 2012/13.  This figure has fallen slightly since last year – by around 25 thousand – but is forecast to rise again and is still almost half a million people higher than in 2009/10.

Surprisingly, another factor that may be driving up the Housing Benefit bill could well be the bungled attempts at cost-cutting reforms – the most notorious being the Bedroom Tax.  There has been no better gift to the landlord class than this nasty policy which is driving people out of secure homes at low, social rents and into the out of control and hugely expensive private sector.  Even the Benefit Cap might be increasing spending on Housing Benefits as families evicted due to no longer being able to afford the rent are rehoused by local authorities in emergency temorary accommodation which can be eye-wateringly expenisve.  Last year the BBC reported on families being placed in £3000 a week hotels after being made homeless due to caps on housing benefits.  The most recent homelessness figures showed the number of families living in B&Bs is at a five year high.

Many tenants are struggling with desperate poverty after cuts to Housing Benefits.  Some Bedroom Tax victims are now paying up to a third of their meagre benefit payments towards the rent.  Yet the cost of Housing Benefit is soaring.  All Iain Duncan Smith has created is more poverty at more cost to the tax payer.  Whatever your political persuasion that is nothing to be fucking cheering about.

You can download the most recent Benefit Expenditure tables at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/benefit-expenditure-and-caseload-tables-2014

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Hard Working Families To Face Triple Whammy Of Benefit Cuts Announces Multi-Millionaire Osborne

gideon-osborneThe lowest paid working fmilies are to face a triple whammy of in-work benefit cuts multi-millionaire George Osborne announced today.

Those with jobs, but on shit wages, will see Tax Credits, Housing Benefits and Child Benefit all frozen in a real term cut to the incomes of the very poorest should the Tory Party be re-elected next year.  According to The Guardian the Tories are planning to freeze almost all benefits for two years including: “jobseeker’s allowance, tax credits, universal credit, child benefit, income support, the work-related activity component of employment and support allowance and the local housing allowance.”

Despite Tory lies to the contrary disabled people are also likely to be the hardest hit by these changes.  Whilst Osborne claims they will be protected, the inclusion of most claimants on Employment Support Allowance means that hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people will see already meagre incomes shrink even further.  If they have children, or live in rented accommodation, then they too will also face cuts to child and housing benefits.

At a time when rents are soaring in many parts of the country it is the inclusion of Local Housing Allowance in these plans that is the nastiest cut of all.  There are already huge numbers of people facing homelessness due to soaring rents, slashed social housing and the refusal of many landlords to rent to tenants on any form of benefits.  Osborne’s plan will make this situation far worse, and will affect those in and out of work alike, along with many of the poorest pensioners.

For those on the lowest benefit rates, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, these policies will cause devastation.  Welfare cuts already made mean that unemployed people, living on just £72.40 a week (or less if they are under 25) often have to use that money to top up their rent, pay the Bedroom Tax, or pay Council Tax.  With the price of heating and transport soaring Osborne’s cuts will mean many more people queuing in foodbanks instead of having the time to look for work.

Once again the Chancellor has shown his utter contempt for those who, unlike him, were not handed a vast fortune on a plate due to their parents wealth and privilege.  Despite the rhetoric, he couldn’t give a fuck whether his cuts hit low paid so-called hard working families, unemployed or disabled people or the children of struggling parents.  If you are poor you are fair game to this Government who, if they are re-elected, plan to make you a lot poorer.

Crash the Tory Party Conference Twittersphere with DPAC!!  (@Dis_ppl_protest).  Use Hashtag: #CPC14 to send your own messages or tweet DPAC’s!

Then join the week of action against workfare next week and support the Focus E15 mums fighting for decent housing for all of us – for more details follow them @E15OpenHouse or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Focus-E15-Mothers/602860129757343

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Never Forget, It Is David Cameron Who Is Ultimately To Blame For Welfare Reform Deaths

cameron-black-tie-doneUnderstandably much of the rage aginst the vicious welfare reforms -  which are costing an increasing number of lives – has been aimed at blundering fucking idiot Iain Duncan Smith.

But it is David Cameron who has cheered along whilst the DWP has spent billions driving the poorest people in the country into destitution.  It is David Cameron who has been in charge whilst hundreds of hungry families have queued at foodbanks, or disabled people have been driven from their homes due to the Bedoom Tax.  And it is David Cameron who is ultimately responsible for the deaths of David Clapson, Stephanie Bottrill, Victor CuffJacqueling Harris and all of those driven to ill health and suicide by his Government’s callous devastation of the social security safety net.

David Cameron probably doesn’t even know that money runs out, and that when that happens, even in one of the richest countries in the world, the results can be fatal.  He is the living embodiment of the something for nothing culture, a man who has inherited a milion pound fortune, but never done a real day’s work in his pampered life.  It is unsuprising that someone so dripping in privilege has stayed in the background whilst Iain Duncan Smith has run rampant through the lives of the most marginalised in society.

David Clapson, who recently took his own life after his benefits were stopped, couldn’t be more different than the Prime Minister.  Whilst David Cameron spent his youth trashing restaurants and quaffing champagne with the elite Bullingdon Club, David Clapson was a serving soldier.  Whilst Cameron has spent much of his working life ‘chillaxing’ on holiday, David Clapson worked for sixteen years as a BT engineer, eight years for other companies, and cared for his sick mother.  If David Cameron were ever to have to stop work due to ill health he would still live a life of luxury that normal people could only dream of.  Yet when the same thing happened to David Clapson he was driven to despair, destitution and tragically his death because he missed a couple of meetings with the fucking Jobcentre.

Whilst Cameron has been enjoying yet another expensive holiday, over 180,000 people have signed a petition demanding an enquiry into the benefit sanctions which killed David Clapson.  The petition is rightly addressed to the Prime Minister – because the blood is on his hands.  It remains to be seen if he is brave enough to try and justify the death of a former serviceman in the name of trying to harass sick, disabled and unemployed people off benefits.  He will do everything he can to ignore it (don’t let him – @David_Cameron)

Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey, Lord Fraud and all the other murderous clowns at the DWP must also be held to account.  As should the craven Labour Party who began this attack on those with nothing and who have no plans to significantly change anything should they claw their way to back to power.  But it is David Cameron’s Government that killed David Clapson.  A man from the gilded toff elite where money rains from the sky is over-seeing a system that is demolishing the lives of the poor.  It is beyond sickening.  It must never be forgotten, or forgiven.

Please sign and share the petition calling for an enquiry into the benefit sanctions that killed David Clapson: http://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-hold-an-inquiry-into-benefit-sanctions-that-killed-my-brother

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One Last Push! Sign and Share The Petition Calling For An Inquiry Into The Sanctions That Killed David Clapson

MAIN--David-ClapsonThis petition calling for an inquiry into the benefit sanctions which killed David Clapson has hit almost 75,000 signatures in just over a week.

Mr Clapson had his benefits stopped after missing a meeting with the Jobcentre.  This left him unable to chill the insulin he needed to manage his diabetes and without any money for food or electricity.  Shortly after his benefits were sanctioned he was found dead without any food in his stomach.

His sister launched the petition last week calling an inquiry into benefit  sanctions and the terrible damage they inflict.  Tens of thousands of people have signed already.  The Government will do everything they can to ignore it, but behinds the scenes this will not go unnoticed.

Benefit sanctions are the teeth of welfare reform, and are designed as a form of punishment for being on benefits.  If you don’t jump through every hoop set up by the deranged Iain Duncan Smith – in the exact way he has decided you should – then you will have all forms of meeting your basic needs stopped.  Depending on your circumstances you might become homeless, ill, or even die.  It doesn’t even have to be your fault.  The system is as haphazard as it is vicious, and thousands have been wrongly sanctioned for the most trivial and vindictive of reasons.

There are signs that, as the public discover what the DWP are doing to people, the mood is starting to change.  A recent poll  by Ipsos Mori found that more people are concerned about poverty and inequality in the UK since they began collecting figures in 1998 (h/t @patrickjbutler).  If this petition can hit 100,000 signatures then it will be further proof that people are finally saying enough is enough to the war on the poor that has been waged so brutally by both this, and the last government.

One last push can make that happen, so please share, tweet, blog and post the petition everywhere: https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/david-cameron-hold-an-inquiry-into-benefit-sanctions-that-killed-my-brother

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