An MP has threatened to take Birmingham City Council to court as Labour and the Coalition parties fight an increasingly bitter war of words over who is to blame for the decision to make some of Birmingham’s poorest residents pay council tax.
Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming says he will ask for a judicial review unless the Labour-run council provides detailed figures explaining its decision to send bills to unemployed residents.
It follows the council’s decision to ask residents who claim Jobseeker’s Allowance - and currently pay no council tax – to pay 20 per cent of the usual fee, which means they face face bills of around £200. Labour says it has been forced to impose charges because the Government is cutting funding for council tax benefit by ten per cent, leaving Birmingham with an £11 million shortfall.
The Government and its supporters point out that councils including Wolverhampton and Coventry have managed to absorb this cut within their overall budgets, and will not be sending bills to residents who currently pay nothing. Mr Hemming (Yardley) has accused the council of refusing to provide him with a detailed explanation for the decision, a charge the authority denies.
He has now written to David Tatlow, the council’s director of legal & democratic services, warning that he plans to ask for a judicial review if the information is not provided.
A council spokeswoman said the authority was providing Mr Hemming with everything he asked for, even before the legal threat arrived.
Mr Hemming has launched a personal attack on the council’s Labour leader, Sir Albert Bore, in a House of Commons motion which suggested Sir Albert “should take a course in accounting in order to learn how properly to manage Birmingham City Council’s finances”.
The motion states: “The Labour administration appears intent on punishing the poor by charging 20 per cent council tax to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance.”
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis (Con) also joined the criticism, pointing out that the Government had promised councils a share of an extra £100 million fund if they pledged not to make residents who are currently exempt from council tax pay more than 8.5 per cent.
But Labour MPs have used their Commons platform to promote the alternative view that the Government is actually to blame.
A motion backed by 13 Labour MPs, as well as Bradford Respect MP George Galloway, states: “This House notes the impact of the proposed changes in council tax benefit and the likely effect on councils like Birmingham City Council, which has the largest caseload of citizens currently in receipt of council tax benefit by a considerable margin... Birmingham’s ability to support the most vulnerable in society will be severely affected by these changes.”