CROYDON IN CRISIS: A mum of six children is facing destitution after the council has made her family more than £200 per month worse off by cutting her Council Tax Support and failing to provide its promised hardship scheme. EXCLUSIVE by EMMA GARDINER
Natalie* is a single mum living in Croydon. She has six children, five living with her at home, including 13-year-old twins who are on the autistic spectrum, and she is a full-time carer.
Times are tough enough, with the cost of living crisis, but for Natalie and her kids they just got a whole lot tougher thanks to Croydon Council.
This month, the cash-strapped council, which went bust in 2020, implemented massive cuts to their Council Tax Support scheme that had previously protected thousands of single mothers, carers and people with disabilities from poverty. People like Natalie and her children, in fact.
After going bankrupt 18 months ago, the council is this year implementing budget cuts of £34million, and one of those cuts was to remove Council Tax Support from 20,000 of the poorest households in the borough, like Natalie’s, starting this month.
When Natalie’s 2022-2023 Council Tax notice arrived just before the start of April, Natalie was horrified to discover her bill was now £215 more per month than her last bill.
Natalie hadn’t had a clue that this was about to happen, or why, until she spoke to campaigners at the South Norwood Community Kitchen.
When it was announced, the SNCK campaigners investigated the scheme and found that it affected women and people from BME backgrounds disproportionately. The council was warned that the cuts would have dire consequences on the borough’s poorest, unnecessarily pushing families into crisis.
They went ahead with it anyway, and now the fallout has begun.
“I had no idea why this was happening,” Natalie said.
“It came completely out of the blue. I am a carer for one of my twins. My grown-up son is a carer for the other. I know so many people in the same position, other mothers with children on the spectrum who are worried sick.
“Everything has gone up. How do they expect us to live?”
When the public raised concerns with the council about the scheme, both through the poorly publicised consultation and afterwards, they were ignored.
Not only have the council refused to reverse the cuts, but now it has become clear that they’ve also failed spectacularly to put in place any of emergency support mechanisms that they promised for people like Natalie who would feel the full impact of the cuts.
At a meeting with council leader Hamida Ali in March, campaigners were guaranteed that a hardship scheme would be in place in time for when the new Council Tax payments were due to be made on April 1.
Promises were made that residents affected would be contacted in advance to give them time to prepare for the increase in their Council Tax bills.
Natalie was never contacted.
And to date, as we approach the second month of the new Council Tax year, there is still no hardship scheme in place, nor any information from the council as to when this might happen.
‘The council don’t care… It’s like we’re not human’
The anti-poverty and equalities campaigner, Sophia Moreau, predicted that this would happen. “This hastily drawn-up Council Tax scheme heavily penalises the poorest groups in our borough, including the working poor, unpaid carers, single parents who are disproportionately likely to be women, and people who are limited in their earnings as a result of disability.
“We are now seeing the consequences of this. The promised hardship fund has not come to fruition, and some families are finding that their Council Tax has increased from a manageable amount of £25 per month to a staggering £240.
“There has been no regard for affordability in the design and execution of this plan. We are seeing the same groups who should be entitled to further protections instead being hit harder by this. This is going to contribute to increased child poverty and intensified inequality in the borough.”
Natalie says that when she turned to the council for advice and help, she was treated with contempt, disregard and disrespect. “I tried to phone them to find out what was going on, they put me on hold for so long that eventually they cut me off.
“When I finally got through to someone, this guy was so arrogant he actually seemed to find it amusing. He told me I just had to suck it up and that I’d get used to it. He was in such a hurry to get me off the call.
“The council don’t care. The way they speak to people is so abrupt. It’s like we’re not human, like we are cattle.”
This, remember, as if anyone needed reminding, is barely one year on from Regina Road, when the council was rightly heavily criticised for its uncaring and casually dismissive attitude to its own tenants, who it ignored while they were forced to live in Dickensian conditions in council flats.
But the council has cut Council Tax Support and now stands back and does nothing.
Croydon Council, following years of its own mismanagement and failures, is now actively creating and causing poverty in this borough. The circumstances that Natalie and her family find themselves in were completely avoidable, and none of which were of their own making.
Natalie and her children are among the thousands of casualties of the Labour-run council’s ham-fisted approach to delivering essential services. And this all comes after the council also decided to hike council rents this month by 4.1per cent – in many people’s opinions, unnecessarily so.
If anyone still believes that this council has any care for the very people that they exist to serve, just remember: you were warned.
*At her request, we have not used Natalie’s real name
Read more: ‘Dangerous’ benefit cuts will hit women, disabled and children
Read more: Cynical, hypocritical and devious: benefit cut to hit thousands
Read more: ‘Council must freeze its unnecessary 4.1% rent increase’
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
- Emma Gardiner, pictured right, is a member of the Regina Road Residents’ Support Group and works with the South Norwood Community Kitchen
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