Queues outside Rotherham pawn shops as £150 council tax help is exchanged for £134 cash

Queues outside Rotherham pawn shops as £150 council tax help is exchanged for £134 cash

By Roland Sebestyen | 09/06/2022

Queues outside Rotherham pawn shops as £150 council tax help is exchanged for £134 cash

 

SOME of Rotherham’s worst-off residents were queuing for more than half-an-hour this week to cash in a £150 council tax rebate cheque — of which
they lost more than a tenth in fees.

Rotherham Council opted not to issue the government’s cost-of-living aid in the form of e-vouchers which could be redeemed at the post office, prompting many to line up at the pawnbrokers.

And we found yesterday that those heading to Ramsden’s in Effingham Street were being handed back £134.02 for their £150 cheque, suffering a hit
of more than ten per cent.

Another town centre outlet was reportedly exchanging the cheques for £137.

People paying their council tax by direct debit received direct £150 payments in late April or early May, but 34,000 households have been sent a cheque, which some residents without a bank account have struggled to cash.

RMBC opted at a cabinet meeting in March not to offer e-vouchers, which could have been redeemed for the full £150 amount from post office or PayPoint sites — an approach taken up by Sheffield and Manchester councils.

RMBC officers said this option was “not viable” as it would have required launching and testing new technology for 34,000 payments and cited the risk
of carrying large sums of cash.

A report also said post office and PayPoint sites may not be able to cope with demand.

Independent councillor Michael Bennett-Sylvester was alarmed by the town centre scenes of long queues outside several outlets.

He said: “I came across the queue outside the Cash Shop at 4pm on the day the £150 council tax rebate cheques were landing on doormats.

“Talking to people in the queue, they were people with no bank accounts, with accounts so overdrawn that they wouldn’t see the cash or were too desperate to wait up to seven days for the cheques to clear.

“In return for their £150 cheque, they were getting £137 in cash.

“Yet again it is the poorest and most desperate who either get least or pay most, whether it’s having to go to a pawnbroker to get your money or
having to pay more for your gas and electricity because you’re on a top-up meter.

“This is just the latest poorly thought-out policy from both local and national government that however well intended doesn’t take into account the re-
alities of life for our most desperate.”

At Ramsdens in the town centre, those in the queue yesterday were waiting over half an hour before having a lengthy identity check process and finally receiving 89 per cent of their cheque’s value.

We approached the council to highlight the long queues, question whether carrying £135 is somehow less risky than £150 and ask if they stood by
their approach.

RMBC said previously any uncashed cheques would be cancelled after three months and the relevant council tax account credited with the £150.

The council said this week that they could arrange for payments to be made in cash by appointment on an individual basis.

Council leader Cllr Chris Read said: “Making these council tax energy support payments within the criteria set by government has been extremely challenging for all councils.

“People are struggling and our aim has been to get the money to them as quickly possible.

“Unlike most places, we have not run an application process with people needing to fill in online forms.

“Over 114,000 payments have been made to date, which accounts for nearly all eligible households in Rotherham. Almost nowhere else in the country will have managed that so quickly.
 
“A total of 31,000 cheques have been issued in the last week, predominantly to people who don't pay their council tax by direct debit.

“If people would sooner not cash the cheque or pay it into an account themselves, they have the option of returning it with their bank details if they wish, so that we can pay the money direct into their account at no cost.

“We are also offering the opportunity to people who don't have a bank account to return the cheque with their phone number so that we can make an appointment for them to receive a cash payment.
 
“Unfortunately there is no perfect solution or template for making payments on this scale to suit everybody’s circumstances and everyone is trying to make the best of this difficult situation.”