Plans to force Bristol’s poorest households to pay council tax contributions have been branded “deeply immoral, unfair and cruel” as the tide of opposition mounts.
The Green Party has even raised concerns that the consultation on changes to the current system could be illegal as it does not incorporate a ‘no cuts’ option.
Bristol City Council is proposing to scale back the council tax reduction (CTR) discount scheme for people on low incomes for 2018/19 and has outlined a number of options, all of which would impose new charges on the thousands affected.
The consultation asks people to comment on proposals that include introducing new minimum payments of between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of the total council bill, in a bid to generate estimated savings of up to £4.2m.
Anti-poverty campaign group Acorn has condemned the plans and argues they will lead to a rise in financial pressures on other services and stress among citizens, as well as exacerbating problems of ill-health, malnutrition and homelessness.
A petition calling on the council to halt the consultation and maintain the CTR scheme as it is has been signed by more than 2,300 people.
“With rising numbers of people in the city using food banks, unacceptable levels of child poverty and dwindling access to public services and support, it is unacceptable that the council takes further money from those of us who are struggling the most to meet its budget short-falls,” said an Acorn spokesperson.
“If people are forced to choose between rent and council tax we can expect to see a rise in evictions.
“In an economic climate characterised by insecure employment contracts, this change may potentially effect a huge number of people who fall upon hard times or find themselves out of work.”
Green councillors have also publicly slammed the proposals which they argue would result in a huge tax rise for the poorest in the city.
“The proposed cuts to the CTR scheme are, in my view, deeply immoral and would inevitably see visits from bailiffs imposed on the poorest in Bristol, as those already under immense pressure due to cost of living increases are simply unable to pay,” said Carla Denyer, councillor for Clifton Down.
“They are likely to result in increased homelessness and see many more households relying on food banks just to get by.”
The group have claimed the consultation could be illegal and cited examples of other councils, including Haringey and Solihull, that have fallen foul of the law when proposing similar changes for not allowing people to opt for a ‘no cuts’ preference.
Denyer continued: “The likelihood that the consultation on these changes may be illegal makes our case even stronger – at the very least the mayor must re-draw the consultation to give Bristolians a real choice and allow them to protect the poorest in the city from these cruel cuts.”
Leader of the Green group Eleanor Combley added that as well as hitting the most vulnerable hardest, the proposed cuts would result in little financial gain.
She argued that the council has failed to take into consideration the knock-on effects, such as increased demand on mental health and homelessness services.
Bristol is one of the few councils that has maintained the same level of support since 2013 and predicts that the scheme would cost £4.1million in 2018/19 if the current system is maintained.
Pensioners are exempt from the changes, but all working-age residents would be expected to contribute if the changes are implemented. The council is proposing to set up a discretionary fund for the most vulnerable households.
The council claims the changes are necessary in the midst of ever-increasing budget pressures and is inviting residents to submit their views on the three options.
- Option one would see the current structure maintained, but a minimum payment of 25 per cent introduced, meaning households would pay on average £5.71 more per week.
- Option two would see a minimum payment of 7.5 per cent in 2018/19, amounting to an average of £1.73 per week, with plans for a further increase to a minimum payment of 50 per cent (£12.03 per week) by 2021/22.
- Option three proposes developing a banded scheme based on non-benefits income and earnings only and a percentage discount of up to 75 per cent given accordingly, with the poorest households paying 25 per cent (an average of £5.47 per week more than under the current system).
The consultation runs until September 24.
Bristol City Council was approached for comment.
Main photo: Bristol Green Party group outside City Hall.