London

Council defends summonses over council tax payments

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Media captionBrent Council says it had no choice since the government changed the system

A London council leader has defended issuing court summonses to thousands of benefit claimants over non-payment of council tax.

Brent Council has issued almost 3,500 summons to residents on benefits who have not paid any council tax.

Since April, when council tax benefit was scrapped, Brent Council has asked residents, who were previously exempt from paying, for some of the money.

The council said residents would be offered help.

Last resort

Muhammed Butt, Labour leader of Brent Council, said court summonses were the only way to get people to engage with them.

"It's a legal requirement for me to make sure that I collect the council tax and I'm doing this in the fairest manner that I can and making sure that when they go to court I have my staff there to help them," Mr Butt told the BBC.

Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, Theresa Villiers, said the support for council tax benefit was still "very considerable".

She told the BBC: "The reality is that we've had to take many tough decisions as this government including on some types of welfare payments.

"If we weren't prepared to take these decisions, the deficit crisis would mean higher interest rates."

Six London councils, including Hammersmith and Kensington and Chelsea, are not collecting council tax from benefit claimants because of administration costs.

Brent Council said court action was a last resort.

Southwark Council has summoned nearly 4,500 people for failing to pay their council tax. The council said it was unable to write off the debts as it would then have to take money out of "another squeezed" council service.

But debt charity Zaccheaus 2000 Trust, has urged the council to absorb the debt.

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