WIRRAL’S council leader says an upsurge in legal action against residents failing to pay their council tax bills is “regrettable but necessary.”

Councillor Phil Davies blamed central Government budget cuts as the first group of people not meeting payments were summonsed to Wirral Magistrates Court yesterday.

Protestors against the cuts had also gathered outside to offer advice to those arriving at court.

In total, the local authority has summonsed 5,791 residents after they did not respond to reminders. However many of those attending this week discussed payment options with council officers instead of going before magistrates.

The huge number of people being brought before the courts comes after 100% council tax benefit was scrapped and claimaints were required to pay a proportion of the rate themselves.

However Cllr Davies said the council needs to collect the debt but added that many people are facing a “double whammy” as the controversial bedroom tax begins to take hold.

The tax affects benefit claimants in social housing who have a “spare” bedroom in their home.

He said: “This is a direct consequence of Government cuts and the fact that we can no longer give people the same amount of benefit as we had been doing. We have got very little room for manoeuvre on the matter as we have ultimately got to collect that money to make sure that funding is coming in. It is regrettable but something that needs to be done.

“Residents are effectively being hit with a double whammy with the council tax and bedroom tax and we would urge anyone struggling to meet payments to get in touch with us to discuss payment options.”

Among those turning up to court was a Birkenhead grandmother - who did not wish to be named - who has seen her monthly council tax bill soar since April and as a result has struggled to cope with payments.

She said: “I had been paying £28 a month towards my council tax but was then told I needed to pay £100 a month.

"I work part-time and it’s not possible to get any more hours, plus I look after my grandson twice so that my daughter can go out to work as she can’t afford childcare.

“I’ve now been given a payment plan by the council until next April but I’ll be here this time next year in the same situation because I won’t be able to afford it then either. It just proves that it doesn’t pay to go out to work.”

Among those protesting outside the court was Robert Claridge from South Wirral Campaign Against the Bedroom Tax who said advice is available for people under financial strain.

He said: “Most of the people here today won’t know that there is help and advice available if you are struggling to pay council tax or bedroom tax.

"I don’t think housing associations are quite sure how to deal with tenants not paying up due to the bedroom tax but there are already eviction notices being served.

“It is only going to get worse - it is a very worrying situation in Wirral.”