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Bar on enforcement of council tax following imprisonment


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Hello,

 

I am having some problems with council tax. I may not need to go into the background. My question is very specific:

 

If I am sent to prison for non-payment of council tax, will the council still be able to enforce the council tax debt after I have served the relevant sentence?

 

If anybody knows, I would be very grateful for confirmation of the legal position.

 

My understanding is that while the debt remains in existence on paper,

enforcement is barred once the prison sentence is served,

however I'm not entirely sure this is correct.

 

I have also seen cases where a person is imprisoned for non-payment and the debt is reduced by £X amount for each day they spend in prison.

I assume that is because the Magistrates order the remission as part of their prison sentence.

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CTAX debt still exists.?

but you wont go to prison unless you are wilfully not paying it..when you clearly can..

can't pays don't end up in jail..

 

tell the full story please

please don't hit Quote...just type we know what we said earlier..

DCA's view debtors as suckers, marks and mugs

NO DCA has ANY legal powers whatsoever on ANY debt no matter what it's Type

and they

are NOT and can NEVER  be BAILIFFS. even if a debt has been to court..

If everyone stopped blindly paying DCA's Tomorrow, their industry would collapse overnight... 

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Thanks, but I already know that the council tax debt will still exist.

 

My question is whether it will be enforceable under those circumstances.

 

Another way to ask the question would be:

 

If a council tax debtor is imprisoned for non-payment,

does this affect the council's legal right to enforce that debt in the future?

If so, how and to what extent?

 

I have a feeling that this is a question that might need to be put to a barrister or solicitor, or someone similar,

but perhaps you or somebody else here can help?

If not, it's not a problem. I can try other avenues.

 

A source I have found on the issue stated:

"Once someone has been imprisoned, the council cannot use further enforcement measures."

[Note: the rules of the forum don't allow me to post links, as I am still classed as a 'new poster'].

 

The above sentence could be interpreted one of two ways.

 

Either:

 

- the council cannot continue to enforce the debt during the term of imprisonment, but can resume enforcement once the debtor is released;

OR,

- the council cannot continue to enforce the debt once a debtor has been imprisoned

(which is to say, once the term of imprisonment has been served),

the effect of this being to bar the council from further enforcement of the debt.

 

It's not quite clear from the context of the relevant passage which interpretation applies.

If I only had this source,

I might lean towards the first interpretation:

i.e. the council can't enforce while the debtor is imprisoned,

but potentially could resume enforcement once the debtor is released.

 

However, I found a different source yesterday that covered the same point but expressed it differently and stated that while the debt itself is not waived, the council is barred from enforcement once a debtor is imprisoned

- rather like a consumer debt can be statute-barred.

Edited by Micah Clarke
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I don't know the answer, but there is also a third possible interpretation:

after the court has given a prison sentence for deliberate non-payment,

the council cannot use a different means of enforcement.

 

Since the imprisonment is for the previous failure to pay,

perhaps the only enforcement method still open to the council afterward is to again ask the court:

"is there still a deliberate failure to pay?", and if there is, the court can decide on the sanction (if need be imposing a further period of imprisonment?)

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I meant to add,

and will here,

that my understanding of how sentencing works in council tax cases is that when a debtor is imprisoned,

the sentence can be remitted if payments are made.

 

That suggests to me that the source I quoted has to be interpreted in the second way I mention,

as that would be more logical: i.e. enforcement is barred once the term of imprisonment is completed.

 

I don't know the answer, but there is also a third possible interpretation: after the court has given a prison sentence for deliberate non-payment, the council cannot use a different means of enforcement.

Since the imprisonment is for the previous failure to pay, perhaps the only enforcement method still open to the council afterward is to again ask the court: "is there still a deliberate failure to pay?", and if there is, the court can decide on the sanction (if need be imposing a further period of imprisonment?)

 

This could be the position,

but I personally doubt it as that would mean people would be in and out of prison and we would be hearing about such cases

- and that's a practice that the appellate courts are unlikely to allow, as it's contrary to public policy.

 

If so, it would, at any rate, have the same effect I mention: of rendering the council tax debt unenforceable.

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An alternative “understanding” is that the sentence is commuted when payment is made not because the sum in no longer due, but because “deliberate refusal to pay no longer exists”.

 

It could be considered akin to where a Court seeks an apology for a contempt, and none is forthcoming. Whisked off to the cells the miscreant goes, but by asking to re-appear and apologising to the court for the contempt of court, the sentence is commuted.

 

So, it goes back to the crux of your question: is the imprisonment in lieu of payment, or for a deliberate refusal to pay, where the imprisonmdnt doesn’t “count as payment”.

 

This could be the position, but I personally doubt it as that would mean people would be in and out of prison and we would be hearing about such cases - and that's a practice that the appellate courts are unlikely to allow, as it's contrary to public policy. If so, it would, at any rate, have the same effect I mention: of rendering the council tax debt unenforceable.

 

The appellate courts don’t like people thumbing their nose at stature Law or the courts, so I’m not sure your reasoning holds....

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just a simply question...so you are refusing to pay it

rather than cant pay as skint?

 

if memory serves me correct

was there not some vicar or something that repeatedly did so a few years back

I was in/out of prison several times.??

 

think its here too..

please don't hit Quote...just type we know what we said earlier..

DCA's view debtors as suckers, marks and mugs

NO DCA has ANY legal powers whatsoever on ANY debt no matter what it's Type

and they

are NOT and can NEVER  be BAILIFFS. even if a debt has been to court..

If everyone stopped blindly paying DCA's Tomorrow, their industry would collapse overnight... 

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please don't hit Quote...just type we know what we said earlier..

DCA's view debtors as suckers, marks and mugs

NO DCA has ANY legal powers whatsoever on ANY debt no matter what it's Type

and they

are NOT and can NEVER  be BAILIFFS. even if a debt has been to court..

If everyone stopped blindly paying DCA's Tomorrow, their industry would collapse overnight... 

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Share on other sites

 

The appellate courts don’t like people thumbing their nose at stature Law or the courts, so I’m not sure your reasoning holds....

 

I seem to recall a case of non-payment of council tax, resulting in an imprisonment, where the (elderly) debtor was refusing to pay on principle. It wasn’t that an appellate court said “against public policy” that got her release, but more that someone paid on her behalf.

 

I’m also aware of a case in coroner's Court where a witness refused to attend, despite repeated attempts by the court to gain their attendance.

Once arrested and bought to Court on warrant, they then repeatedly refused to answer questions (and not just by relying on a right to avoid answering where they might incriminate them self into criminal charges).

The coroner gave them overnight in the cells to reconsider. They still refused and the coroner gave them 2 weeks inside.

They challenged this to an appellate court (the Court of Appeal?), who agreed it was very wrong ........

 

 

 

.... and that for such a flagrant disrespect of the court it should be 3 months, and then to reappear before the Coroner’s Court.

 

I’d suspect it is “a matter of public policy” that people don’t deliberately refuse to pay council tax and also that they aren’t allowed to ignore witness summonses ....

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I’d suspect it is “a matter of public policy” that people don’t deliberately refuse to pay council tax and also that they aren’t allowed to ignore witness summonses ....

 

The debtor's attitude towards council tax has nothing to do with it. It is not a public policy issue, there is no equivalency. The Magistrates are not (or are not supposed to be) engaged in some kind of retribution against the debtor for his social views or his fecklessness. The issue, in simple terms, is whether the debtor can pay but is wilfully refusing to (i.e. has the money but will not pay) or has negligently failed to (i.e. had the money but spent it on non-essentials instead without reasonable excuse). Of course, Magistrates will depart from this, but when they do, they are acting unlawfully - again, as the appellate courts have repeatedly confirmed.

 

The simple fact is that prison can only be used in a council tax case as a last resort and only as a coercive measure, not as punishment. Case law is clear on this. Locking somebody up repeatedly for non-payment would only occur, if at all, for different council tax debts, not for the same debt. If you doubt this, then please cite just one known case where this has happened, in which the same debtor has been locked-up twice for the same debt. I may be wrong of course, but intuitively it makes no sense. Yes, there have been cases of debtors locked-up twice for council tax owed to the same council, but I have not heard of a case where a debtor is locked-up twice for the same council tax bill (a different thing).

 

It would be against public policy, I believe, because the aim of the legislation is not to seek retribution (i.e. punishment) on the debtor. If you think it through, when the Magistrates commit a debtor to immediate custody, what they are doing is using the last card available to them. They are using custody as a way to coerce an unwilling or negligent debtor to come up with the money.

 

This reinforces my reasoning that once the allotted term of imprisonment has been served, while the debt remains in existence on paper, the council are barred from enforcing it: a position analogous to a statute-barred consumer debt. However, I don't know this for sure, hence my question. Logically, it does make sense. During the term, the debtor can pay the debt down and remit his sentence, in effect buying himself out or at least reducing his term, but once his term is completed, the debt can no longer be enforced as the 'last card' has been played. It's curtains.

 

My question remains unanswered. That's no problem: it looks to me like I will need to consult a barrister or solicitor who specialises in this area.

 

Thanks anyway for your replies.

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The debtor's attitude towards council tax has nothing to do with it. It is not a public policy issue, there is no equivalency.

.................

 

You say the debtor’s attitude has nothing to do with it, but it has everything to do with it.

Magistrates aren’t looking to imprison “can’t pay-ers “, but instead “won’t pay-ers”.

You say “it isn’t a public policy issue”, but it arises from legislation giving the courts the power to imprison for wilful non-payment of council tax : if the appellate court’s backing that isn’t a “public policy issue” what would have to happen for you to consider it had become a public policy issue?

 

Thanks anyway for your replies.

 

Why do I associate “Thanks anyway” with “I was posting for validation, not advice or a reasoned discussion, and I’ve realised I’m not going to get the validation I seek”?

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Why do I associate “Thanks anyway” with “I was posting for validation, not advice or a reasoned discussion, and I’ve realised I’m not going to get the validation I seek”?

 

The issue for Magistrates is: Will or can the debtor pay? That is not an assessment of the debtor's attitude or psychology or social views, which are strictly irrelevant. If the debtor won't pay, or if the debtor could pay but hasn't, then a committal order becomes possible.

 

The public policy point is very easy to understand. Courts don't imprison people repeatedly for the same council tax bill. That's because it would offend the policies of not using prison for punishing civil debtors and not using prison more than once for the same mischief. The first point is confirmed in case law, the second point I'm pretty confident about, but I need it confirmed, and also I need to know how else the council's ability to enforce would be restricted.

 

If you think I'm wrong, by all means link to some cases that demonstrate this and I'll look at them. I would welcome this - that's why I came on here in the first place. But if you can't do that, then all you're doing is giving me your tuppeny's worth. Thanks, but I need a proper answer, so I will be consulting a lawyer.

 

There is no need to be aggressive with me. I'm correcting you because you're wrong - or you appear to be wrong - in your understanding. It's not personal. If in fact you're right, and I'm wrong, it's no skin off my nose, it's not an ego thing: just show me the evidence, and I'll be happy and it'll probably help other people. I'm genuinely interested in an answer to my question. I'm not here for an argument and egos.

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I got more of a “won’t pay, rather than can’t pay” vibe ...

 

No, those ARE NOT my circumstances, and I'm not revealing to you, a stranger on the internet, what my circumstances are.

 

This is supposed to be a help forum, and it's best when you're in that grey area of 'not knowing', not to pretend that you do know things when you don't. I think in that regard you have overstepped the mark.

 

If you wish to help people, then help people. If you don't want to help people, please don't post on here - or certainly not on any thread I start or in response to my posts.

 

I have not been rude to you.

 

Thank you very much.

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Less of the personal remarks please...Micah Clarke given you have stated you will consult a Solicitor...I think its better left at that and this thread concluded.

 

Andy

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Thanks, but I already know that the council tax debt will still exist.

 

My question is whether it will be enforceable under those circumstances.

 

Another way to ask the question would be:

 

If a council tax debtor is imprisoned for non-payment, does this affect the council's legal right to enforce that debt in the future?

 

I have a feeling that this is a question that might need to be put to a barrister or solicitor, or someone similar,

 

The above sentence could be interpreted one of two ways.

 

Either:

 

- the council cannot continue to enforce the debt during the term of imprisonment, but can resume enforcement once the debtor is released;

 

OR,

- the council cannot continue to enforce the debt once a debtor has been imprisoned (which is to say, once the term of imprisonment has been served),

the effect of this being to bar the council from further enforcement of the debt.

 

It's not quite clear from the context of the relevant passage which interpretation applies.

 

However, I found a different source yesterday that covered the same point but expressed it differently and stated that while the debt itself is not waived, the council is barred from enforcement once a debtor is imprisoned

 

In your opening post you mention that you have council tax arrears and you wished to raise a query regarding the effect of the council tax arrears if you are subject to committal proceedings. Given the recent publicly on this subject, it is important to stress that each year approx 3.5 million Liability Orders are issued and actual committal is very rare indeed.

 

The number of individuals who are actually sent to prison or subject to suspended committals has remained almost the same for the past 5 years with the figures for 2016/7 being approx 105 committals and just over 1,000 suspended committal orders.

 

As you have quite rightly stated, if a person has been sent to prison for council tax arrears, the debt itself will still remain. Accordingly, my personal view, is that if payment is not made during the time that the debtor is in prison, then legislation must be interpreted in such a way as to allow the local authority to take 'further steps' after the period of imprisonment has ended (a maximum of 3 months)

 

Another way of looking at this is to look at the 'further enforcement steps' that could be taken. These are:

 

Attachment of earnings

Attachment against benefits

Bankruptcy

Charging Order

The use of bailiff enforcement

 

Common sense alone would tell you that whilst the debtor is in prison, he would not be employed so attachment against earnings or benefits could not apply. Being in prison would also mean that the debtor would be unable to address and defend a bankruptcy or charging order and lastly, bailiff enforcement could not take place (as the debtor is in prison).

 

PS: You mention that you will be consulting with a solicitor or barrister for a definitive answer. Would you please be kind enough to update the thread with their opinion.

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Yes, there have been cases of debtors locked-up twice for council tax owed to the same council, but I have not heard of a case where a debtor is locked-up twice for the same council tax bill

 

I have also seen cases where a person is imprisoned for non-payment and the debt is reduced by £X amount for each day they spend in prison.

 

 

Given the extreme rarity of instances of debtors actually serving a period in prison (approx 100 debtors per year), could you provide a link (or further details) to the above cases.

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As you have quite rightly stated, if a person has been sent to prison for council tax arrears, the debt itself will still remain. Accordingly, my personal view, is that if payment is not made during the time that the debtor is in prison, then legislation must be interpreted in such a way as to allow the local authority to take 'further steps' after the period of imprisonment has ended (a maximum of 3 months)

Within council tax legislation itself there's nothing specific which prevents another form of enforcement being used providing that more than one form isn't used at the same time. It is blissfully silent on what happens after imprisonment to the amount remaining.

 

Remission by the court can only be made under Reg 48(3) where a prison sentence isn't handed down.

 

The issue of enforcement after a prison sentence, assuming monies remain unpaid, is an interesting one. In the entire time I worked for a local authority they never did committal so it was not an issue under consideration as to what can happen afterwards.

 

In principal the sentence is a means of leverage to pay, not in lieu of payment so the sentence itself does not remit the charge. What happens afterwards however has been discussed by the High Court before, there's not be a clear cut consensus though as I'm not aware of any case where enforcement has been continued and challenged at the High Court. In R (on the application of Allen) v Wirral Justices in 2000 they considered an unreported case, R v Alfreton Magistrates, ex parte Darren Gratton , where the Judge stated that ". . . we all know now as a result of a number of decisions that community charge liability should only be visited with prison (if I may use that shorthand expression) if there is no other way in which the money can be extracted. Prison is not to be used as a big stick or primarily as punishment but as a means of extracting the liability. For example, a prison sentence can be postponed pending payment of so much off the arrears. The object of the exercise is to collect the money from those who chose wilfully not to pay it and thus piled the liability onto their fellow community charge payers, rather than simply to throw them in prison and not extract the money. If the full sentence is served, the liability is of course extinguished." (my emphasis). I've not currently come across any more up to date case law regarding the matter however the decision does seem to be rather counter-intuitive in its the reasoning.

 

I've never heard of anyone being jailed twice for the same council tax debt, I'm not sure I can think of anyone being jailed twice for different council tax debts.

 

In cases where debt is partially paid the sentence will be apportioned under the Reg 47(7), the sentence remitted if full payment is made before it finishes, rather than the debt being reduced by part service of the sentence. If there's cases where the latter has occurred I'd be interested to see as it's not directly covered by the regulations

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There's certainly been failings of procedure, as I've said for a long time the Magistrate's rely on the clerk for legal guidance so where they are so badly wrong then the clerk should be taken to task for the procedural failings. If procedure was correct then they may well have been jailed anyway but the failure to means test and determine wilful refusal/culpable neglect first is something the clerk should be pulled up for not advising on.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The High Court have recently given their opinion on council tax after committal and their conclusion is:

xvi) The serving of a term of imprisonment does not formally eradicate the subject's debt; but it makes that debt unenforceable. Service of the term of imprisonment is, to that extent, in lieu of enforceable payment

.

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/format.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2018/17.html&query=(%22council)+AND+(tax%22)

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