Council figures offer bleak snapshot of ‘struggling Scarborough’

'Frightening' council figures show a dramtic spike in the number of families and firms in the town coping to survive . Photo credit should read: Matt Morton/PA Wire
'Frightening' council figures show a dramtic spike in the number of families and firms in the town coping to survive . Photo credit should read: Matt Morton/PA Wire

The number of penniless Scarborough families turning to the council for help in keeping a roof over their heads has doubled in the past year.

Since April, thousands of court summons have been posted to hard-up residents over unpaid council tax, and hundreds of businesses in the borough are failing to pay their bills.

Now a homeless charity has warned that cash-starved Scarborough Council is limited in how much money it can hand out to struggling families, before they would be forced on to the streets.

The grim prophecy follows a Scarborough News investigation, which paints a picture of a town still in the midst of the crippling economic downturn, with many residents unable to cope with ongoing welfare reforms.

Barrowcliff councillor Bill Chatt claims he did not sleep for nearly three days when he first heard about the proposed welfare overhaul.

Now that it has become a reality, he envisages a bleak future for many in the town.

Scarborough Town Hall. Picture by Andrew Higgins   121831g  02/05/12

Scarborough Town Hall. Picture by Andrew Higgins 121831g 02/05/12

“So many changes have come in over the past year, and it’s affecting the least able people in society,” said Cllr Chatt.

“These are not the lazy people you read about on the internet, these are good, honest people, but what chance do they have?

“We are going back to Victorian times.”

Figures disclosed by Scarborough Council through the Freedom of Information Act reveal a “frightening” spike in the number of families and traders in Scarborough struggling to survive.

They reveal that:

l 7,311 council tax reminders were posted after residents missed the first payment – up 73 per cent on last year,

l 2,198 court summons sent out already this year over unpaid council tax

l 348 businesses late in paying their first business rate payment of 2013

l 146 firms that hadn’t paid any rates two months after the first payment was due.

And in a report from Cabinet member Cllr Jane Kenyon, the Finance, Procurement and Legal portfolio holder claims the number of Discretionary Housing Payments made to struggling families and individuals doubled in 2012, and is on course to double again this year.

The payments are dished out from a council cash pot, to benefit claimants who are struggling to pay the remainder of their rent, are in arrears or possibly about to be made homeless.

In 2012, 307 payments were made, and 178 applications have been made since April this year.

In her report, Cllr Kenyon admits the rise in payments is “in no small part” down to welfare reform changes, such as the controversial bedroom tax

And Kay Boycott, policy and communications director at Shelter, claims the increase in applications shows just how many people are caught in a “desperate struggle” to keep their home because of these changes.

“Worryingly, the latest series of changes means that even more families will be facing that battle in the future.

“As a result, it’s likely that the funding available to councils just won’t stretch far enough, leaving some people at risk of homelessness.

“Getting advice early can make the difference between keeping your home and losing it.”

The welfare overhaul that was implemented in April meant that family benefits were capped, benefits and tax credits given a sub-inflation uprating and cuts to council tax benefit.

Universal credit has also been implemented in certain test areas, before being gradually rolled out nationally.

Family benefits are now capped at £500 each, regardless of the number of children living at home.

The Scarborough News understands that there are now only six families in Scarborough receiving the top-end allowance.

Ministers have argued the changes are necessary to tackle the rising cost to the taxpayer and cut the budget deficit.

They also say it will simplify the system and encourage jobseekers to work.

However, charities and opposition politicians say the measures will force families into rent arrears and increase homelessness.