Benefit cuts are criminalising the old and the low paid

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‘FAMILIES are being forced to choose between staying on the right side of the law or feeding themselves,’ warned Labour’s Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn yesterday.

This came after a Labour Party survey found that due to benefit changes, 112 English councils had reported issuing 156,000 court summonses since April to people paying more council tax.

That meant 450,000 individuals may have been taken to court across the whole of England in six months.

Labour asked all 326 billing authorities in England how many court summonses they had issued following the change to council tax benefit in April.

It said the 112 authorities that responded were from a representative cross-section of councils, in terms of population density and deprivation, and extrapolating the numbers for the whole of England meant that as many as 450,000 individuals may have been taken to court since April.

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said: ‘Families are being forced to choose between staying on the right side of the law and feeding themselves.’

Benn added that Prime Minister Cameron needed ‘to wake up to what’s happening across the country.

‘People on the lowest income are struggling to pay his council tax rises.

‘This is exactly what happened with the Poll Tax, as many are disabled people, veterans and carers.’

Meanwhile, an increase in discounts has seen Right to Buy sales of council housing double.

In April 2012, Right to Buy discounts were increased to a maximum of £75,000. In London, this increased to a maximum £100,000 from April 2013.

Over 10,000 people have taken their first step on the property ladder thanks to the reinvigorated Right to Buy, the Department for Communities and Local Government boasted on Thursday.

In the year to April 2013, 8,398 council and housing association tenants took up their Right to Buy, more than double the sales seen in the previous year and the highest level since 2007.

These, on top of the 2,149 Right to Buy sales seen in the first quarter of this year, take the total sales to date to over 10,000.

Changes to the eligibility criteria for the Right to Buy, from five years to three years, are included in the Deregulation Bill which is currently before Parliament.

Right to Buy and Preserved Right to Buy sales accounted for half of all social housing sales in 2012 to 2013.