Harlow Council takes 918 to court over council tax

Harlow and the Peasants revolt
Image caption The pseudonym 'Wat Tyler' has been taken by one of the Harlow tax rebels

Nearly 1,000 people who previously did not have to pay council tax have been called to court for failing to meet their bills.

The government scrapped the national council tax benefit scheme in April.

A campaign group calling itself the Harlow Council Tax Rebels say some people cannot afford to pay the amounts now requested.

The Labour-led Harlow District Council said the changes had to be carried out and were being done "compassionately".

Council tax benefit was replaced by local support schemes, where the amount of council tax previous non-payers contribute varies by area.

Peasants Revolt

In Harlow, residents who previously avoided council tax now have to pay 24% of the full amount.

One of the rebels, calling himself Wat Tyler after the leader of the 1381 Peasants' Revolt in England, has been taken to court and had the amount he was told to pay reduced from £4.17 a week to £3.60.

"You just have to cross your fingers and hope you will get through the year really," he said.

"When you are on a very low income you just try and juggle from week to week, and you basically just hope."

Across Harlow, 918 of the 5,500 affected by the benefit changes have been summonsed to court in the past five months.

'Helping both sides'

Mike Danvers, who stepped down from his position on the council's cabinet because of the changes, said: "It affects the poorest people within our society and they just cannot pay this amount of money."

But Tony Durcan, the council's cabinet member for resources, said: "It is regrettable, but this decision has to be carried out."

In deciding how much council tax those affected should pay, he said, the council had tried to act with "compassion".

He added involving the courts had actually helped "both sides" involved in setting an amount the non-payers should contribute because it was "independent".

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