Fears that reducing council tax support would push people into poverty were disputed as councillors voted on whether to recommend the proposal.
Barnet Council’s policy and resources committee met at Hendon Town Hall this evening to discuss raising the contribution rate for people receiving the support, which helps people on low incomes or benefits pay their council tax, from its current rate of 8.5 per cent.
The seven Conservative members voted to recommend raising the rate to 20 per cent, while the five Labour members voted against it.
The recommendation will be voted on at the full council meeting next Tuesday.
The committee heard from Marc Francis of Z2K, a charity which campaigns on poverty, and Megan Jarvie, representing the Child Action Poverty group.
Mr Francis explained how neighbouring London boroughs had “extensive” hardship funds to help people pay, and that some exempted disabled claimants and people on ESA from having to contribute.
Mr Francis added: “It will push some people over the edge. We recognise councillors have been put in a difficult position, but we think this increase would be too much of a burden.”
Officers told the committee that there are currently three discretionary funds available to help people pay – the crisis fund, housing payment and a council tax pot.
Conservative councillor Tom Davey, chairman of the housing committee, cited the lack of protesters outside the town hall or in the public gallery as evidence that it would not have a big impact on people.
Cllr Davey added: “The people impacted aren’t complaining in their droves. There’s no signal to me the people affected are up in arms.
“I object to the word poverty in London, particularly when you work with the markets I work with in Africa. It’s not poverty just because they don’t have a PlayStation.
“I think it would be fair to move it to 20 per cent because all residents should pay their fair share. It’s a sound proposal.”
Councillor Alison Moore, leader of Barnet’s Labour group, said: “People treat council tax as a premier debt. That doesn’t mean they are not in poverty. The people who are struggling with this are too busy to turn up to discuss it here.”
She said that comparisons with neighbouring London boroughs were “flawed”, and that increasing the rate would put Barnet in the top two or three boroughs for how much people had to pay. She added that retaining the rate at 8.5 per cent had significant public support.
Cllr Moore added: “You don’t know what the cumulative impact will be. You run the risk of putting people into difficult circumstances. It’s a lunatic time to do it.”