It is ten years since the disorders triggered by the shooting of Marc Duggan. Croydon was badly affected. A study in today’s The Guardian ‘A tinderbox of tensions still in place’ has a map of Croydon. It shows the Borough by areas of different degrees of deprivation. It highlights Thornton Health, Addiscombe and the Town Centre as the areas badly affected are which were either in or bordering on areas of high deprivation. We know that deprivation has increased in Croydon over the decade, and will have been further aggravated by the COVID pandemic and is likely to get worse.
The pandemic has adversely affected those on benefits, low incomes, zero hours contracts, the self-employed. Many will be hit by the Goernment’s plans to end the £20 Universal and Tax Credits addition and the furlough scheme on 30 September. Croydon Council and the Chamber of Commerce are calling on the Chancellor to delay phased withdrawal of furlough. A series of national reports on Universal and Tax credits, Council Tax, water debt, the digital divide and bailiffs action raise a wide range of issues, which need to the considered in the on-going debate in Croydon over economic recovery.
The End Of Furlough
50,000+ Croydonians Could Lose Universal Credit Boost
Nationally 46% of adults in 5m households on Universal Credit, and 1m on working tax credits are worried that the upcoming £20 cut will affect their ability to afford food according to national poverty charity Turn2us. 44% will struggle to pay bills, 29% don’t know if they will be able to continue pay their rent or mortgage, and 20% will not be able to stay out of debt.
Christians against Poverty (CAP) say the planned cut to should be cancelled. Their new report looks at the impact of problem debt on financial and mental wellbeing. It demonstrates how all forms of wellbeing are compromised by a lack of income and social security, which are essential to underpinning health and setting a course for positive futures. It recommends that the UK’s financial wellbeing should be measured, that problem debt should be named a public health issue, that further research should be conducted to understand the link between wellbeing, support networks and debt advice outcomes, and action taken to help those declared insolvent.
Council Tax After Covid
As with all Councils Croydon has arrears in receipt of Council Tax. In England the total is £4.4bn. A study by the Money Advice Trust shows that more than 7m people in Britain (14%) are worried that they won’t be able to afford their council tax bills over the coming year. Some vulnerable groups are most at risk of falling behind on their council tax – people with disabilities or long-term health conditions are three times more likely to be in arrears. 59% of British adults are supportive of the Government increasing the amount of money given to councils to allow them to help households who are struggling to pay. Money Advice Trust recommends that the Government introduce a permanent increase in funding for local authorities to deliver Council Tax Support schemes that cover up to 100% of bills for the most financially vulnerable. It should reform out-dated council tax collection rules to prevent the rapid escalation of debt and ensure people in debt are treated fairly. All local authorities should exempt people receiving Council Tax Support from bailiff action in recognition of the fact they have already been identified as vulnerable.
Will Croydon Back New Approach To Bailiff Regulation?
Croydon residents in debt often have visits from the bailiffs. The way bailiffs operate and are managed by those hiring their services has been an on-going issue I have watched since the 1970s, and occasionally been involved in lobbying work.
The Centre for Social Justice is proposing to replace bailiff self-regulation by an Enforcement Conduct Authority with ‘a clear mandate to ensure fair treatment and appropriate protection for people subject to enforcement’. The debt advice sector ‘Taking Control’ campaign has welcomed the proposal, as an important opportunity to raise standards and protect people in financial difficulty from unfair practices. However the proposals fall far short of the full statutory regulation they have called for.
Will Croydon Council support the idea?
As far as I am aware the extent of water debt in Croydon is not known. In its annual Water Matters study, the Consumer Council for Water argues that more support with water bills is needed. It is calling on water companies to improve the way they engage with their customers to ensure those that are struggling most to afford their water bills do not miss out on support. It found that just over 1 in 4 households across England and Wales felt their finances had changed for the worse during the last year and those who were already struggling to afford their water bills faced even greater hardship, The unemployed or those working in hospitality and call centres, people under 30 and those from an Asian or mixed ethnicity background were among those that felt their finances had got worse during 2020. Some of these customers remain in the dark over the support available to help pay their water bill despite water companies’ efforts to bolster help for low-income households during the pandemic through schemes such as social tariffs and payment breaks. CCW recommendations include measures to overcome low awareness of existing support, such as making communications much clearer and more accessible, improving data sharing to better identify customers in need of help and taking more proactive steps to understand the communities they serve can help the industry target the hardest to reach customers.
The Digital Divide And Telecoms Debt
As I keep arguing in my blog postings and representations to the Council there is still a lack of understanding about the nature and the digital divide. Ofcom is warning mobile phone and broadband firms that they must do more to support people in financial difficulty, or they could face new interventions to better protect customers. New research shows that many people on low incomes are struggling to pay, and not all of them are getting the support they need. 2m households struggle to afford internet access. 2% of broadband and 3% of mobile customers are in arrears, while 0.1% and 0.2% are disconnected by their provider every month. Between January 2020 and January 2021 total debt among broadband and mobile customers increased from £475m to £550m. Only six providers offer targeted affordable ‘social’ tariffs for customers on low incomes. Ofcom is consulting on whether the protections in place for customers in debt or struggling to pay should be strengthened until 5pm on 30 September.