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Is imprisonment for council tax default unlawful?


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A very interesting article from the Local Government Lawyer journal regarding a custodial sentence for 'wilful refusal' or 'culpable neglect' in paying council tax:

 

 

http://localgovernmentlawyer.co.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=23236%3Aimprisonment-for-council-tax-default&catid=56&Itemid=24#_ftnref

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I don't think the rights or wrongs come into it. If there is no ultimate sanction on an action, any sort of action, it will be a case of, 'they can't do anything so why bother paying'.

The water companies have found this out now that they are banned from cutting off or reducing the flow of water to domestic properties for non payment of the bill for supply.

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So if Revd Nicholson is sent to jail by magistrates urged by the council, it would be unlawful.

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I don't think the rights or wrongs come into it. If there is no ultimate sanction on an action, any sort of action, it will be a case of, 'they can't do anything so why bother paying'.

The water companies have found this out now that they are banned from cutting off or reducing the flow of water to domestic properties for non payment of the bill for supply.

 

But most other debts don't carry a penalty of imprisonment, yet most people do pay them.

 

And water companies, like electric utilities are still making record profits.

 

The BBC whine that decriminalising non payment of the TVL fee would see them bankrupt - so how exactly did they ever have enough money to run the service before it was criminalised a few years ago? Because presumably, before it was criminalised, nobody bothered paying, as there was no ultimate sanction?

 

And why should the ultimate sanction be prison? Is it really fair to imprison for civil issues? How is the taxpayer getting a fair deal, if it imprisons someone who owes £500 in Council Tax, for 6 weeks, at around £800 a day?

 

There are plenty of sanctions other than prison, that remove the need for bailiff's, never mind the need to lock up people for non payment.

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Agreed, debtors prison was killed off years ago. What I was trying to say, and probably worded it badly, is there has to be some sanction, I think it is only tax that carries the threat of prison now.

 

 

To be honest, if I had the choice of a few weeks in prison or some bullheaded bailiff marching his muddy boots around my house and getting real enjoyment from doing it, I think I would chose prison.

 

 

It should never reach this stage, most debt is through no fault of the debtor, it's circumstances such as redundancy or the breadwinner passed away and that should be taken into consideration before any other sanction even comes to mind.

Help them when they want to pay but can't, not penalise them.

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I don't understand why it was Mrs Aldous that was committed to prison if the Husband was jointly liable or why as mentioned in the Judgment, the Husband was earning, they could have done a wage attachment ?

 

If the Committal to prison was unlawful, I hope Mrs Aldous was awarded some compensation.

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Agreed, debtors prison was killed off years ago. What I was trying to say, and probably worded it badly, is there has to be some sanction, I think it is only tax that carries the threat of prison now.

 

 

To be honest, if I had the choice of a few weeks in prison or some bullheaded bailiff marching his muddy boots around my house and getting real enjoyment from doing it, I think I would chose prison.

 

 

It should never reach this stage, most debt is through no fault of the debtor, it's circumstances such as redundancy or the breadwinner passed away and that should be taken into consideration before any other sanction even comes to mind.

Help them when they want to pay but can't, not penalise them.

 

The problem is, Prison is not instead of paying your debt, it is Prison, and you still have a liability to pay the debt, so could come out of 90 days prison, and still have bailiff's in muddy boots hammering on your door.

 

There are also plenty of other alternatives, wage and benefit attachments to ensure repayment. Most Magistrate's stress how serious it is to send someone to prison, and will often refer a case to crown court, out of their own jurisdiction precisely because a custodial sentence is seen as so serious, so to send people off for debt is ludicrous.

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The problem is, Prison is not instead of paying your debt, it is Prison, and you still have a liability to pay the debt, so could come out of 90 days prison, and still have bailiff's in muddy boots hammering on your door.

 

There are also plenty of other alternatives, wage and benefit attachments to ensure repayment. Most Magistrate's stress how serious it is to send someone to prison, and will often refer a case to crown court, out of their own jurisdiction precisely because a custodial sentence is seen as so serious, so to send people off for debt is ludicrous.

 

I thought if you went to prison for c tax then that was the end of the matter and they couldn't chase you for the debt when you were released?

 

I thought once you served a prison term no further action could be taken against any of the people liable for the council tax?

 

Sorry posted that twice not very good at tetchy stuff :(

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Agreed, debtors prison was killed off years ago. What I was trying to say, and probably worded it badly, is there has to be some sanction, I think it is only tax that carries the threat of prison now.

 

 

To be honest, if I had the choice of a few weeks in prison or some bullheaded bailiff marching his muddy boots around my house and getting real enjoyment from doing it, I think I would chose prison.

 

 

It should never reach this stage, most debt is through no fault of the debtor, it's circumstances such as redundancy or the breadwinner passed away and that should be taken into consideration before any other sanction even comes to mind.

Help them when they want to pay but can't, not penalise them.

 

Good article, yes as said when this subject came up previously, in this country imprisonment for debt was abolished by the debtors act 1869 http://thelawdictionary.org/debtors-act-1869/, this act is still mentioned in csaes of civil proceedings where commital is an option.

 

The position is that the debtor must be found able to pay but unwilling(culpable neglect) this is why investigations must be made into the finances, you cannot be committed for being unable to pay.

 

The problems with evidencing this are discussed very aptly in the article.

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Seems that some do not understand the term "culpable neglect."

 

Culpable means blameworthy and neglect means to fail to take an action.

 

So yes failing to take the action of paying the court would be culpable neglect, (ho hum)

 

Culpable neglect does not mean spending your money on something else, neglect does not mean spending money. :)

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Have you recently checked up the Prison Service Orders, (PSO's) and civil prisoners?

 

No MM must admit it is not on my list of "things to do" :)

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I thought if you went to prison for c tax then that was the end of the matter and they couldn't chase you for the debt when you were released?

 

I thought once you served a prison term no further action could be taken against any of the people liable for the council tax?

 

Sorry posted that twice not very good at tetchy stuff :(

 

Not at all - the liability is still owing, and you will likely have a visit from Bailiff's starting the process again when you arrive home.

 

except now, you will be even more unable to pay having lost your job, or if on benefits, your benefits being cancelled for your prison term, so your 6 weeks in arrears for rent, or behind on the mortgage etc.

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In the very rare cases where a custodial sentence is imposed, the court has to be satisfied that ALL other methods of enforcement have been tried (taking control of goods, attachment of earnings, attachment of benefits etc). and failed. The general impression being that there is NO possible means of raising money to pay the debt. Accordingly, if a custodial sentence is applied, most councils will write off the arrears.

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I really do think that this thread has run it's course now. Seventeen million councils tax accounts are issued each year. 3.5 million go to bailiffs and just 100 end up with a custodial sentence.

 

3.5 million go to bailiffs ! That is a big percentage . What is the change since councils have applied tax to those on benefits or very low income/savings ?

 

Are councils involving EA's too early in the collection process ? A debate for another thread, but something Mr Pickles should be looking at

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3.5 million go to bailiffs ! That is a big percentage . What is the change since councils have applied tax to those on benefits or very low income/savings ?

 

Are councils involving EA's too early in the collection process ? A debate for another thread, but something Mr Pickles should be looking at

 

The regulations have been in place for just over one year and the government are currently undertaking their 'One Year Review'. I was considering starting a thread about the past year outlining the pro's and con's since the new regulations have been in place and your comment has prompted me to do so. Let me work on this over the weekend.

 

 

PS: Sadly Mr Pickles lost his ministerial role in the recent election.

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Adding to the discussion here has anyone read from here yet? It may answer some of the earlier questions see below for the link

 

 

http://publiclawtoday.co.uk/local-government/litigation/311-litigation-articles/25537-imprisonment-for-council-tax-default

 

 

With this attachment there are some very good arguments on this subject... PDF from here

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:XkupW8Jz6BkJ:alumni.coventry.ac.uk/Document.Doc%3Fid%3D114+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk

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I don't understand why it was Mrs Aldous that was committed to prison if the Husband was jointly liable or why as mentioned in the Judgment, the Husband was earning, they could have done a wage attachment ?

 

If the Committal to prison was unlawful, I hope Mrs Aldous was awarded some compensation.

 

Yes that is the point, committal for debt is unlawful, however it was the conscious decision not to pay which landed her in clink.

 

I can see the cases of committal being reduced even further given that a light has been shone on what is actually going on in magistrates courts, and the fact that the committal sentence is not being adequately examined regarding its legality before people are sent down.

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Another interesting point about this case and the commentary.

It seems that although this is a civil offence, that the test when considering committal and the ability to pay, would be one of beyond reasonable doubt(criminal test, rather than the civil balance of probabilities).

Anyone facing such proceedings would be well advised to remind the court of this, as I should think that it would be impossible to prove in most cases, to that level of certainty.

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They seemed to get arround the Civil/Criminal thing due to the threat of imprisonment being seen as a coercive method to obtain payment rather than a punishment, but of course there has to be a scapegoat now and then against whom the threat is carried through. Essentially though, imprisoning a non-payer is not punishment.

 

It is only one of a range of remedies open to councils for recovering unpaid Council Tax. So, by definition, it is not a punishment which is reinforced when considering that upon being imprisoned and the outstanding debt owed is paid, then the debtor is released.

 

– AND –

 

From the library of the House of Commons (which appears to be no longer available):

 

(Imprisonment and debts)

 

"
This is considered to be a coercive measure, designed to elicit the funds, rather than a punitive measure for not paying
.

When Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service grant a liability order to the council it does NOT do so for non-payment of council tax, rather to empower the council to recover unpaid Council Tax.

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They seemed to get arround the Civil/Criminal thing due to the threat of imprisonment being seen as a coercive method to obtain payment rather than a punishment, but of course there has to be a scapegoat now and then against whom the threat is carried through. Essentially though, imprisoning a non-payer is not punishment.

 

It is only one of a range of remedies open to councils for recovering unpaid Council Tax. So, by definition, it is not a punishment which is reinforced when considering that upon being imprisoned and the outstanding debt owed is paid, then the debtor is released.

 

– AND –

 

From the library of the House of Commons (which appears to be no longer available):

 

(Imprisonment and debts)

 

"
This is considered to be a coercive measure, designed to elicit the funds, rather than a punitive measure for not paying
.

When Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service grant a liability order to the council it does NOT do so for non-payment of council tax, rather to empower the council to recover unpaid Council Tax.

 

Out of interest, is there a difference in regard to imprisonment for TV licence non payment and Council Tax ?

 

I believe more people have been sent to prison for refusing to pay for a TV licence,which is bizarre. Given that one is £150 to fund the BBC and the other potentially thousands to fund council services. The UK really is a bizarre place and any foreigners coming to the UK to live must shake their heads thinking how they have got to this position of a TV licence being more important in the eyes of UK authorities than tax for public services.

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No i dont think so, the reason for the enhanced test is because of the nature of the sanction, imprisonment, and this as said several times cannot be the result of a civil dispute, that is why the criminal test must be applied.

 

Asking people to pay a tax that is rightfully owed is not coercive in common language of course. Although the FMOTL amongst us would believe it is. The actual sentencing is referred at as being coercive because it cannot be punitive, you cannot be punished for being in debt(seem to have said that before :).

 

In common parlance again you cannot say that the threat of possible jail sentence however handed down is not a deterrent to incurring the debt in the wider sense, many people will be deterred form going into debt because of the threat of this sanction.

 

This is off topic really and has little to do with the judgment and has more to do with those that do not really understand the issue trying to pick on words which they think are misplaced in opinion given on here, it serves no purpose in my view in regard to discussing the subject of the article in post one.

Perhaps another thread on the meaning of particular phrases and words.

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....This is off topic really and has little to do with the judgment and has more to do with those that do not really understand the issue trying to pick on words which they think are misplaced in opinion given on here, it serves no purpose in my view in regard to discussing the subject of the article in post one....

 

Why have you posted then if you consider the subject raised to be irrelevant. Are you one of those internet trolls?

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