Lambeth Greens ‘piggyback council decision for political capital’ as parties wrestle over bailiff issue

Lambeth Green Party has released a statement announcing they had secured an ‘urgent’ re-evaluation of the use of bailiffs, but the council have hit back accusing the group of political point scoring.

Green Party councillor Scott Ainslie said last week he had called for the re-evaluation of sending in bailiffs for residents in arrears who receive Council Tax Support (CTS), accusing the council of disproportionately penalising low-income residents.

Cabinet Member for Finance and Investment, Councillor Paul McGlone, told SW Londoner: “It is disappointing that the Greens are attempting to make political capital out of the difficult situation facing residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

“This issue did not come to light when a Green councillor happened to mention it in the Town Hall; it has in fact been under review for several months – since August last year, as part of our budget-setting process.”

Councillor Scott Ainslie had welcomed the review when he raised it at a meeting and condemned the ‘little or no awareness’ of the negative effect the policy has had on local residents.

“It is disappointing that the Greens are attempting to make political capital out of the difficult situation.”

Neighbouring boroughs, including Southwark, do not aggressively pursue people who fall behind their payments and do not send in bailiffs or impose excessive legal or court costs on CTS claimants.

Last year a report revealed Lambeth Council topped the London league table for penalising people falling into CTS arrears, issuing 8,933 summonses and referring 3,244 cases to bailiffs.

During the same period they issued court charges of more than £1million pounds to those on CTS, however the council described the use of bailiffs in these cases as a ‘last resort’.

Cllr McGlone said: “We have a responsibility to collect income which is needed to pay for essential services, but the use of bailiffs has always been a last resort.

“In terms of Council Tax Support, uniquely in London, our local scheme already excludes any liability for the most vulnerable, such as pensioners, carers, disabled people and those families affected by the benefits cap.”

Green councillor Scott Ainslie said: “The way Lambeth’s cuts to Council Tax Support are being implemented is putting an unbearable burden on those who can least afford it.  It appears to be more punitive than any other London borough.

“The receipt of a court summons is an intimidating experience that can have a severe impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of someone in a vulnerable situation.”

He urged the council to minimise charges levied on borough residents and end bailiffs for CTS cases altogether.

Lambeth council hit back and told SWL that they had been working on extending the provision that excludes vulnerable people and to improve the take-up of help schemes.

They pointed out the work they already undertake with Lambeth residents, including securing a deal with local banks to enable people who do not have bank accounts can get one.

Cllr Scott Ainslie added: “The Cabinet minutes state clearly that leader of Lambeth council, Lib Peck, asked officers to look into the issue of the use of baliffs.

“To pretend otherwise demonstrates little regard for the people in Lambeth who are suffering as a result of the Council’s policy and need urgent action to protect them.”

Picture courtesy of Sunset Removals, with thanks

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