Hundreds of Sheffield ‘victims of benefits cuts’ were herded before magistrates yesterday as residents in council tax arrears were summonsed to court.
Protesters gathered outside and crowds of worried residents swelled the court corridors after summonses were delivered to homes across the city.
Each person was issued a raffle ticket and told to wait in the packed building for their number to be called.
Campaigners said the people made up a first wave of residents unable to meet payment deadlines due to benefit cuts and the ‘bedroom tax’ - and warned: “This is just the start.”
The ‘bedroom tax’ is thought to affect 6,000 people in the city - and Sheffield Council said changes to legislation also account for its demands for cash from 33,000 people who have been billed to pay 23 per cent of their council tax.
Mum-of-three Louise Cooper, aged 27, from Wybourn, told The Star she is being asked for £45 extra on top of her £255 bill - money she says she needs to clothe and feed her young children.
“Why bring all these people to court?” she asked. “Why not try to help people who are really struggling?”
Shirley Frost, of the Benefits Justice Campaign, branded the council’s actions a ‘war on the poor’.
She said: “They have targeted the poorest and most vulnerable people who are low paid, unemployed, disabled, single parents or families who previously received full council tax benefit.
“Up to 7,000 of these same people have been hit by cuts in housing benefit, the bedroom tax, disability benefits and tax credits.
“The council doesn’t have to do this. They should stand with us in opposition to all benefit cuts instead of hiding behind accountants.
“Add to this the fact that advice services have been severely cut back and there is no legal aid for people in court.”
Coun Bryan Lodge, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “We are sorry these taxpayers found themselves in this position, but the council is doing what it can to support those who have been hit hardest by the cuts by establishing a £500,000 hardship fund.
“It must be remembered we have a duty to collect the council tax that pays for the local services we all value and expect.”