Members of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty disrupted the Finance and Resources Committee meeting at the City Chambers on Tuesday 11th November, after the committee agreed to the second phase of the aggressive collection of council tax arrears, which the group argue is unjust. Angry protests from the public benches forced the Councillors to temporarily abandon the City of Edinburgh Council meeting.
ECAP made a deputation to the Committee demanding an end to the new aggressive policy of debt recovery that the council is pursuing, arguing that it intimidates people into paying more than they can afford, and brings unnecessary stress and financial strain to low income families struggling to pay their council tax.
A spokesperson said, “at our weekly drop in advice shop many people have come to us reporting that they have received harassment, intimidation and abusive language from Sheriff Officers.”
“Some people have even been told that if they don’t pay hundreds of pounds there and then, Sheriff Officers will come back with police and enter their home and take their possessions. Such threats are illegal. We demand a full investigation into the conduct of Sheriff Officers collecting Council tax.”
A spokesperson said “the council tax is planned to be abolished precisely because it is an unjust tax, and this makes the Councils policy of aggressively collecting arrears from people struggling to pay their tax an injustice.”
“DON’T BE BULLIED”
We say to those who are targeted by the council: you are not alone, lots of people are resisting this unjust tax, don’t be isolated, don’t be bullied. If Sheriff Officers come to your door unexpectedly, don’t speak to them, don’t let them in, shut the door in their face. They have no power to force entry.”
The new collection policy will target 12,377 accounts and according to the Report to the Finance Committee, “targets inner city areas where privately rented flats are the predominant accommodation.” Almost all such tenants are likely to have a low income and/or be in insecure jobs, as the vast majority who can afford it would take out a mortgage to buy a flat or house.
The new policy means the Council will demand that council tax arrears for these accounts are paid off within one year, even in cases where the debt is thousands of pounds and this is clearly impossible, and will threaten sequestration (bankruptcy) to try and enforce their demand.
But ECAP urge: “If you receive such a demand, don’t panic. Before doing anything get independent advice and support. People we have supported have successfully fought off threats of bankruptcy. In the first phase of this aggressive new policy the Council’s own figures show that 86% of those who received a letter threatening bankruptcy, then succeeded in getting the Council to accept that they could not increase their arrears instalments.”
All councillors attending the committee voted in favour of the measure, including members of the ruling Liberal Democrat SNP Coalition, and councillors from the Labour, Tory and Green Parties.
An ECAP member at the council meeting stated: “This is only the beginning. We urge people to get involved with us in resisting this and the many other injustices we face. We are building a solidarity phone tree which will mean that a network of people can turn up to stop sheriff officers, house repossessions, benefits cuts and other unfair actions by the authorities.”
“It’s no use relying on politicians – we need to get organized ourselves and take direct action. It’s our world, let’s take it back.”