Hundreds of people summonsed to court were being ordered to pay council tax for the first time after their benefits were slashed.
New rules mean people who used to receive full council tax relief now have to pay at least 23 per cent of the bill.
Others blamed financial difficulties caused by the recession for non-payment.
Leah Spowage, aged 20, of Wincobank, a part-time shop worker at Meadowhall, said: “They said I owed £259. It’s quite extreme to take me to court because I only had one letter.
“I called the council but was on hold for an hour before I hung up.”
She agreed to make an arrangement with council officials and did not go into court.
Leaving court, she said: “It only took a few minutes with the officials but it’s a good job I am on holiday or I would have had to take a day off work and lose pay to come here – they could have sorted it out in a phone call.”
Kieran Smith, 20, from Stocksbridge, who owed £743.45, said: “I was working for Fletchers Bakery but my shifts were cut to two a week and I couldn’t afford to make ends meet. I’m now waiting to join the Army and am not working. I thought I was allowed council tax benefit.”
James Aveyard, 34, of Nether Edge, who is on job seekers’ allowance, said: “I have been told I owe £191 and that I had received a warning letter but they didn’t get in touch until I had the summons.
“I was on Employment Support Allowance for disability but they threw me off that on to job seekers because I didn’t attend an appointment I didn’t know about because I had changed address.”
Gareth Lane, 32, of Abbeydale Road, Sharrow, was brought to court for a £310.74 debt owed by him and his two housemates.
But he disputed liability for political reasons and was involved in a brief stand-off with magistrates before they ruled he had to pay.
Mr Lane said to magistrates: “I don’t accept liability. The liability lies with the Tory Government. I don’t know how you sleep at night.”
He was warned by the bench about his remarks but replied: “You don’t frighten me. Are you trying to intimidate me?”
Magistrates told him the court was sitting to decided liability and was ‘not a political forum’. He was ordered to pay his arrears plus £30 costs.