Fears hardship will rise - as Sheffield residents lose case

Pictured is Chris Walker,Manager, of the Pitsmmor Citizens Advice Bureau,Spital Hill
Pictured is Chris Walker,Manager, of the Pitsmmor Citizens Advice Bureau,Spital Hill
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RESIDENTS have lost a High Court case against Sheffield Council’s decision to withdraw 100 per cent exemption from council tax.

Other people also face having the benefit cut in 2013/14 and up to 60,000 households will have to pay more in total.

Up to this year, several thousand of the city’s poorest people have received 100 per cent council tax benefits.

But the Government has cut funding for council tax benefits by 10 per cent, equivalent to around £5m in Sheffield.

Because pensioners are protected from any changes, people of working age are being hit more severely.

Households who previously paid nothing will now have to pay at least 23 per cent of full council tax - at least around £5 per week.

Four residents who faced ‘financial pain’ due to the decision challenged the council at the High Court, but had their complaints thrown out by Mr Justice Supperstone.

The four - Kelly Buckley, Iyabo Congreaves, and Anne and Alicia Mills - argued the consultation process had been unfair and misleading.

Their barrister also said the council had failed to properly consider the impact on vulnerable groups, including children and disabled people.

Ian Wise QC, for the four residents, said the council had turned away the opportunity of softening the blow by claiming almost £1m from a Government’s scheme to help authorities cope with changes to the council tax system.

Mr Wise also argued the shortfall could have been met by increasing the council tax bills of those who can afford to pay, changes to the council tax rules, cutting services and using council reserves.

However, the judge said the council had refused the Government grant scheme because tight criteria made claiming ‘unaffordable’. The court heard the council would have had to add £1m towards council tax benefits to qualify.

Council tax increases, or use of reserves, ‘were not realistic options’, the judge added.

Lawyers for the council said setting up a £500,000 hardship fund was ‘the best way’ of helping those facing financial crisis.

Conor Maguire, the residents’ solicitor, from Sheffield-based Irwin Mitchell, said an appeal will be considered. He said: “We are disappointed. The poorest, most vulnerable residents in Sheffield face having to pay towards council tax.”

Chris Walker, manager Pitsmoor Citizens’ Advice Bureau, who has seen an increase in demand fuelled in part by benefit cuts, said: “We will see a great deal of rising debt and hardship.”

But Sheffield Council finance cabinet member Coun Bryan Lodge said: “These are difficult times.”