Single parents and disabled people were among the hard-hit residents brought before court after falling behind in council tax payments.
Chaotic scenes unfolded at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court as the first batch of 33,000 people who have been billed to pay 23 per cent of council tax were summoned for hearings.
Desperate pleas were made by some of the poorest people, all struggling to manage following benefit cuts including the ‘ bedroom tax’ which was introduced in April.
Mum Louise Cooper, 27, lives in a three-bedroom house with her partner and children, Dwayne, nine, Dantae, four, and two-year-old Jillarnie.
She told The Star she had found herself in the red after her benefit was cut by £23 a week.
She was summoned to court after the council sent her a letter demanding £255 - and gave her just three days to pay the full amount.
Louise, from Wybourn, said: “We’ve not even got a spare room in our house, but they expect my children all to share so I have had my benefit cut.
“It’s like I am being punished for being poor.
“It was chaos, everyone had numbers and they were calling them out.
“My auntie has been too, she thought she was going to prison.
“There are a lot of people who are really worried and the council dragging them through the courts and making them pay even more is not helping.
“People will end up turning to crime. They’re going to shoplift because they can’t afford food.”
Grandma Janet Dewsnap, 57, of Woodhouse, said she’d had three anxiety attacks in the week leading up to her court hearing.
Janet, who has lived in her home for 16 years, said: “I had my money cut by £11 a week because of the bedroom tax.
“I can’t leave my house - it would kill me. There are people in the neighbourhood who know me and know about my problems and support me.
“This has been a nightmare.
“My partner was so worried I was going to prison he was crying.”
Single mum Jade Vaughan-Roe, 29, from Shiregreen, said: “They wanted me to give them £17 a month. I paid what I could but I just can’t afford it.”
Last month Sheffield was named one of the worst areas for council tax arrears. The council is owed £34 million, the highest amount of tax in the region - £150 per household.
Coun Bryan Lodge, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for finance, said: “Prior to March we contacted 35,000 customers that we identified would be affected by the Government’s new council tax legislation.
“These people were informed about the advice and support available. Following bills being issued, 17,000 people had not paid and were sent a reminder at the end of April, and in May the remaining 9,000 non-payers were sent reminders.”