A disabled man who has been taken to court for not paying £5 a week in council tax said he is taking a stand against ‘discriminatory’ and confusing tax relief forms.
But Worthing Borough Council has said that support is available to complete applications.
I feel like the council are saying ‘if you pour your soul out to us, reveal all of your decision making with money and prove to us how destitute you really are we’ll give you the tax relief’Sydney Lewis
Sydney Lewis, 46, from Salvington is a former lifeboat worker who sustained a spinal injury in 1990. It has left him with sciatica and rendered him unable to work.
Mr Lewis receives support and employment allowance and personal independence payments from the government, which amounts to around £200 a fortnight, and was exempt from paying council tax. But after the introduction of a universal £5 a week council tax charge by Worthing Borough Council in April last year, Mr Lewis said he cannot afford to live.
He tried to apply for tax relief from a discretionary fund for vulnerable residents, but said he struggled to source the required information.
“That £5 is part of the money I use to survive, not to have an elaborate quality of life. I feel like the council are saying ‘if you pour your soul out to us, reveal all of your decision making with money and prove to us how destitute you really are we’ll give you the tax relief’.”
After sending one form that wasn’t received by the council he was sent another which he ‘ripped up in disgust’.
“They wanted so much information that for me it was discrimination and an infringement of my privacy.
“They know my benefit rate, so why do I have to fill out all these forms to prove I can’t pay? I’m disabled and I can’t work – if I could I would.”
Mr Lewis has now been summoned to Worthing Magistrates Court to pay £260 of outstanding tax he owes.
A council spokesperson said: “During 2015 and 2016 the council wrote to and telephoned customers affected by this change to offer support and advice. Mr Lewis was in contact with the council during this period and we are continuing this dialogue, as we hope to agree a payment arrangement to prevent any additional costs being incurred.”
They added that any customers who need tax relief can make an appointment with a customer service advisor at Portland House to help complete an application for a discretionary award and discuss how to pay it.