4,600 face court threat over council tax payment

The queue outside Peterborough Magistrates' Court.
The queue outside Peterborough Magistrates' Court.
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18 June: More than 4,600 Peterborough residents have faced legal action over the payment of council tax in a move that triggered huge queues at the city’s magistrates’ court.

It comes after a shake-up of Council Tax benefits came into force leaving 8,750 city households paying the tax for the first time and 2,350 seeing their bills increase.

Peterborough City Council officers say despite repeated efforts over the last few months to get householders to contact the local authority to agree payment schedules for this year’s tax many had failed to do so.

They say it left them with no option other than to issue summons to 4,641 households over alleged non-payment of council tax.

While most seemed to have resolved the issue over the phone, some 277 people turned up at Peterborough Magistrates’ Court at 11.30am on Tuesday and faced waits of up to two hours before they were spoken to by one of 15 council tax advisers. No one was prosecuted by magistrates.

Among them was Colin Boon (54), of Eastrea Court, Stanground, who is registered blind and said he was “extremely angry” he had received a summons as a printed letter, which he could not read, and had no knowledge of any changes to the system.

He said: “If there has been a change in the rules what they should have done is written to me in a format I can understand.”

Jose Ferreira (55), of Wellington Street, Eastgate, a diabetic who earlier this year suffered a stroke, said; “It’s stupid asking everyone to get here at the same time.”

But the action was defended by a council spokesman who said it is given a limited number of dates by the court for the operation and stressed it had only issued the summons after residents failed to respond to their bill and subsequent reminders.

He said the Government had cut funding by £2.4 million which meant the council had a smaller amount to share out to those eligible for Council Tax benefits.

Cllr David Seaton, cabinet member for resources, said: “We’ve worked hard to support those who are paying for the first time and if residents have any worries they should contact us as soon as they can.”