REV PAUL NICOLSON’S LEGAL CHALLENGE TO HARINGEY MAGISTRATES’ AND HARINGEY COUNCIL’S ENFORCEMENT OF COUNCIL TAX.
REV PAUL NICOLSON’S LEGAL CHALLENGE TO HARINGEY MAGISTRATES AND HARINGEY COUNCIL’S ENFORCEMENT OF COUNCIL TAX.
The courts and the councils should make sure they observe the law when imposing the punitive measures of enforcement of council tax against the lowest incomes already suffering caps and cuts.
A friendly lawyer helped me draft the letter clarifying my application to the Haringey magistrates to state a case which follows this summary.
As you know I am refusing to pay my council tax even though I can afford it. That means I am on the receiving end of the enforcement procedures. I have been concerned about careless enforcement by courts and councils against poverty incomes since the Poll Tax in the 199os, and then the Council Tax.
Now benefit claimants are being charged council tax on top of the cuts and caps to their benefits and the escalating prices of food, utilities and other necessities. Enforcement adds further unmanageable debts.
Many are also suffering rent arrears due to the housing benefit caps.
There are three problems.
- The Haringey magistrates authorise the enforcement by Haringey Council of £125 cost per liability order on top of the arrears. How did the magistrates lawfully conclude that the costs incurred amounted to £125 per liability order?
- The magistrates acted unlawfully by failing to take steps to issue stamped and sealed liability orders against the debtors summonsed to the proceedings on 2 August 2013.
- The liability order issued to me (uniquely because I asked for it) is neither stamped nor sealed. I have therefore written to the council and asked them to note that as the liability order issued to me is not stamped or sealed I do not consider it constitutes valid authority to enforce.
THE CONTEXT OF THE CASE
The context is as follows. The magistrates grant 1000s of applications from councils for liability orders in a few minutes at one sitting.
They act like blind malignant Harry Potters giving huge powers of enforcement with the wave of the hand to the councils against vulnerable and impoverished people, receiving the lowest income in work and unemployment, with no attempt to examine their dire circumstances.
If a liability order is granted the council is able to take one or more of the following actions:
- Instruct bailiffs to take your goods and sell them to settle your debt – this can include your car.
- You will be liable to pay the bailiffs costs which could substantially increase the debt.
- Instruct your employer to deduct payments from your salary or wages.
- Deduct money straight from your jobseekers allowance or income support.
- Make you bankrupt.
- Make a charging order against your home.
- Have you committed to prison”.
Page 9 of the National Standards for Enforcement Agents has a procedure for “Vulnerable situations” when debts are being enforced which should be drawn to the attention of local authorities and bailiffs; it is available on the Ministry of Justice website.
These are seriously heavy sanctions against the lowest incomes both in work and unemployment. The courts and the councils should ensure that they observe the law when imposing the punitive measures of enforcement of council tax against the lowest incomes already suffering caps and cuts. The long term aim must be to abolish council tax and business rates in favour of land value tax.
LETTER TO THE MAGISTRATES – Haringey magistrates court’s HQ is the Highbury Corner court.
Deputy Justices Clerk
North London Local Justice Area,
Highbury Corner Magistrates Court
London N7 8JA
Dear Mr McAllister,
I write further to my application on 2 August 2013 asking the magistrates to state a case under section 111 Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 (“MCA”) in respect of the proceedings on that day and the decisions which they reached.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am a ‘person aggrieved’ by the orders made by the magistrates on 2 August 2013, both as a party to those proceedings and as a member of Taxpayers Against Poverty. Under section 111 MCA, I have a right to therefore to question ‘the proceeding’.
I consider that my application raises two clear points of law in relation to which I consider the magistrates may have erred in law.
You have asked me to clarify the bases upon which I ask the magistrates to state a case, and I do so as follows:
1) What factors did the magistrates take into account in exercising their discretion under regulation 34(7) of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992, in determining costs liability for persons – including myself – in respect of sums ‘reasonably incurred’ by the London Borough of Haringey in liability order applications brought before them in bulk applications?
As to this question, I accept that the court has a discretion under regulation 34(7) but it is a discretion to determine costs ‘reasonably incurred’, which falls to be exercised judicially. I see no basis upon which the magistrates could lawfully have concluded that the costs incurred amounted to £125 per liability order.
The factors of which I am aware are that (i) that the court issue fee was £3; (ii) summons were sent out by post, using computer-generated standard form letters; (iii) 17,200 summons were issued by the London Borough of Haringey in 2012/13. At £125 per summons, that means that the magistrates have assessed the London Borough of Haringey’scosts of the bulk liability order hearings cumulatively as being £2.15 million. (iv) So far in 2013/14 the number of summons issued by Haringey has increased by 42%.
I do not accept that the London Borough of Haringey can possibly have ‘reasonably incurred’ costs of £2.15 million in in 2012/13 obtaining these orders, and it cannot therefore have been reasonable to have assessed the costs per case as being £125.
The magistrates’ exercise of discretion appears on its face to have resulted in orders which were unlawful, because they were orders which no reasonable magistrates could make in the circumstances of the case. Moreover, I consider they breached the magistrates’ duties under section 6 Human Rights Act 1998. The orders amounted to violations of Article 1 Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights because they amount to an excessive and disproportionate penalty rather than a genuine and rational contribution to costs.
Issue 2 – the forms of liability orders
2) On what basis did the magistrates determine that they did not have to serve stamped and sealed liability orders on debtors judged to be liable for arrears of Council Tax and costs during the proceedings on 2 August 2013?
The liability proceedings fell to be conducted in accordance with the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992. The Court had to determine the form of liability order to be made under regulation 35 of the Regulations, in such a way as to make it lawful for the local authority then to take the further steps set out in the Regulations for enforcement of the liability orders made.
In my view, the magistrates acted unlawfully by failing to take steps to issue stamped and sealed liability orders against the debtors summonsed to the proceedings on 2 August 2013. This includes me: I (uniquely) asked for and was given an individually addressed and signed order but it was not stamped or sealed or otherwise given any indication of judicial authority. I therefore do not understand the status of that order given that it has no mark of court authority, and given that no such orders were served on persons in identical circumstances.
I therefore consider that the magistrates have acted unlawfully and in breach of their legal duties under regulation 35 of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992 in failing to issue proper orders.
Given the serious consequences which flow from the making of such a liability order, I do not consider that the London Borough of Haringeycan properly act to enforce them without them being properly and duly stamped or sealed.
I hope that, given this further clarification, you now feel able to advise the magistrates to state a case as requested.
I note that the magistrates are under a duty to do this unless they consider the application ‘frivolous’ in the sense of raising questions which are ‘futile, misconceived, hopeless or academic’ or ‘inappropriate, or raise issues which are irrelevant to the court’s decision”.
I also note that this is not a conclusion a court will lightly come to, and that it is an insufficient basis for a court to refuse to state a case that it considers it decision to be right or immune from challenge (see R v North West Suffolk (Mildenhall) Magistrates’ Court ex parte Forest Heath District Council  Env LR 9,  COD 352.
The making of a Council Tax liability order and the imposition of what I regard as manifestly excessive costs have very serious consequences for some of the poorest people in our society, who have fallen into arrears of Council Tax as a result of the decisions of local authorities to pass cuts in Council Tax Benefit directly on to those who would otherwise have received it. The anxiety which the making and consequences of such orders can cause is enormous. The making of such an order is not, therefore, a matter of rubber-stamping, but one in respect of which it is vital that the due process of law is observed.
In the light of the arguments of law set out above, and the explanation of why this is an application with very serious practical consequences, I hope the magistrates will now recognise that these are appropriate circumstances to state a case.
If for any reason they do not do so, I would ask them to give reasons for their decision, under section 111(5) MCA, so that I can seek a mandatory order from the Administrative Court requiring them to do so under section 111(6).
I am copying this letter to the London Borough of Haringey. I note that under rule 64.2(b) of Part 64 of the Criminal Procedure Rules the letter should be served on every other party to the proceedings. I am not in a position to serve every other party, and I would ask that in the circumstances of this case, an order be made either that this requirement be waived or that the magistrates’ court itself serve this notice on the other parties in respect of whom liability orders were sought.
Rev Paul Nicolson
93 Campbell Road,
London N17 0BF
Mad Hatter’s tea party invent a system that hands out benefits and then taxes them, making decent people hungry and cold.
CUTS THAT LEAVE THE POOR HUNGRY AND COLD
You are right to sound the alarm (Thousands face bailiffs because of council tax benefit cuts, 2 December), as magistrates courts are enabling local authorities to hit the living costs of the poorest citizens with the enforcement of council tax by issuing thousands of liability orders en bloc in a matter of minutes. All politicians, national or local, when they contemplate cutting or taxing benefits in work or unemployment, should take note of the Joseph Rowntree minimum income standards. And Cameron and Clegg’s £50 a year voluntary reduction in utility bills looks pathetic when measured against the survival needs of benefit claimants to find £50.11 a week for a healthy diet. For example in Haringey the £71.70 unemployment income of over 6,000 single adults is hit by £165-£402 a year council tax. Many will not be able to pay, so the council will apply to the magistrates for a liability order, adding £125 costs to the tax. The total annual tax becomes £290-£527 a year.
The healthy food standard has been created by nutritionists, checked with potential users for acceptability and the public for reasonableness, and then priced in supermarkets. In April 2013 it was £50.11 a week. The council tax therefore takes the cash equivalent of between three and 10 weeks’ food a year out of that £71.70 unemployment income. It is already struggling to cover £50.11 every week for healthy food, let alone for utilities, clothes, transport and other necessities. In some cases the same income is hit, together or singly, by the three caps on housing benefit and the 1% freeze in annual increases, and the bailiffs, further damaging the health and wellbeing of the poorest citizens. Only a Mad Hatter’s tea party could have invented a system that hands out benefits and then taxes them, making decent people both hungry and cold.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
REVEREND PAUL NICOLSON CLAIMS CHANGES TO COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT APPEAL TO TAXPAYERS’ SELFISH SIDE – HARINGEY INDEPENDENT NEWS.
REVEREND PAUL NICOLSON CLAIMS CHANGES TO COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT APPEAL TO TAXPAYERS’ SELFISH SIDE - HARINGEY INDEPENDENT NEWS.
Jaber Mohamed, Reporter
A vicar who is refusing to pay his council tax in protest against changes to welfare has accused Haringey Borough Council of appealing to the “selfish side” of taxpayers.
The Reverend Paul Nicolson said it was outrageous that the council is forcing benefit claimants, who are already suffering from other benefit cuts, to pay at least £200 in council tax.
He said if the authority raised council tax by just 86p a week on wealthy householders it would cover the cuts and protect the poorest from further hardship.
The 80-year-old, who lives in Tottenham, said: “The council takes a very dim view of the taxpayer and has failed consulted with the public on its decision to make benefit claimants pay council tax.
“People are losing everything – hundreds of cars are being repossessed, people are losing their possession and it’s all affecting their health.
“But I think there are many people in the borough who would be willing to pay more if it meant helping the poorest among us.”
Rev Nicolson said this cut to council tax benefit costs the Haringey’s poorest between three to 11 weeks worth of food.
He added: “If the council explained to the population of Haringey what is happening to the very poorest in our society, there would be an immediate shock.
“The people would be willing to pay that amount but there was no consultation and the current policy only appeals to out selfish side.
“They think we are so overwhelmed with our own problems that we would be unwilling to help others.”
The Reverend said rather than help the poor the authority had got the magistrates to issue 12,105 liability orders for non-payment, up 42 per cent since 2010.
The 80-year-old said: “The situation is absurd. There are plenty of people who would be happy to pay more in order to stop others being hungry.”
In August, a liability order was issued against Rev Nicolson for his refusal to pay council tax which will cost him £125.
He has since challenged the decision ordering him to pay £125 and is considering asking judges the High Court, in central London, to order a judicial review these charges.
A council spokesman said it was the government’s decision to abolish council tax benefit and instruct all local authorities to introduce a new council tax reduction scheme.
She said: “This left Haringey council facing a funding gap of almost £4million and the introduction of Haringey’s Council Tax Reduction scheme followed extensive consultation with residents.
“Direct support from government for council tax reduction schemes reduces year on year.
“It would simply not be sustainable for the council to absorb the cost of the government’s cut, especially when already faced with reductions in government grant of around £144million up to 2016.
“Increasing council tax to cover the shortfall would have meant placing extra burden on thousands of hard-pressed local families. ”
THOUSANDS FACE BAILIFFS BECAUSE OF COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT CUTS. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/02/council-tax-support-withdrawal-increase-court-proceedings
THOUSANDS FACE BAILIFFS BECAUSE OF COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT CUTS.
Randeep Ramesh is right to sound the alarm in The Guardian this morning because magistrates courts are enabling local authorities to smash the living costs of the poorest citizens with the enforcement of council tax by issuing 1000s of liability orders en bloc in a matter of minutes.
5000 were issued in Southwark magistrates court on one Friday recently and a further 4000 the following Friday.
The magistrates grant disproportionate powers to local authorities in the most careless and irresponsible way. There is no examination of the circumstances of the CT debtors before they give the LA draconian powers to send in the bailiffs.
The local authorities excuse in the Guardian piece that the 10% cut in central government funding of CT benefit left them with no alternative but to tax benefits wont do for the following reasons.
1. The Local Government Finance Act 2012 (LGFA) localised council tax. They are free to tax or not to tax benefits. Some councils did not tax benefits.
2. Haringey council knows from their own figures that they could have increased the council tax by 86 pence a week on band D to keep the 100% CT benefit for benefit claimants. .
3. They also know that 86 pence a week equals 4% and the LGFA 2012 requires them to run a referendum if they want to increase the council tax by 2% or more. Some councils have raised council tax by 1.9% and kept the 100% CT benefit.
4. It is true that they have to enforce the tax but that adds £125 to the debt in Haringey and the bailiffs add £100s more. The councils knowingly put themselves in a position where they would have to enforce the tax against people who cannot pay it, and who have already been hit by the bedroom tax, the LHA cap and the £500 overall benefit cap.
The coalition local government minister Barandon Lewis comments in the Guardian piece that “Spending on council tax benefit doubled under the labour government, and is costing the tax payer equivalent to almost £180 a year”.
Well this taxpayer is willing to pay £180 a year to help stop benefit claimants being hungry and cold.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road,
London N17 0BF
LETTER PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES – 25/11/2013 Christian outrage about the depth of poverty in the world is not motivated by the politics of either Left or Right, liberal or conservative.
LETTER PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES – 25/11/2013
Christian outrage about the depth of poverty in the world is not motivated by the politics of either Left or Right, liberal or conservative.
Sir, You are concerned about Pope Francis getting a “good press from the Left” (Tim Montgomerie, Opinion, Nov 21). However, Christian outrage, whether Catholic, Protestant or Evangelical, about the depth of poverty in the UK, and the rest of a wealthy world, is not motivated by the politics of either Left or Right, liberal or conservative.
It is motivated by empathy with the suffering of poor people reinforced by Christian teaching which originated in the Jewish faith more than 4,000 years before those relatively modern political labels.
Secondly, addressing the plight of the world’s poor is a priority which must not be diluted by disagreements such as abortion. Emphasising disagreements when there is a fire to put out lets the house burn down.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
I have addded the following comments to The Times on line comments about the above letter which avoided addressing the issue of poverty in the UK.
To all those who have commented so far. I withdrew from the chair of Zacchaeus 2000, but remain a trustee, because I had founded Taxpayers Against Poverty (TAP) and needed to focus my work on building it. TAP is not a charity and therefore need not be inhibited in the political arena.
There are several recommendations about what to do about poverty in the UK to be found on both our website and Facebook page.
They include not re-electing the present government while maintaining pressure on the labour party to up their game in the issue of UK poverty.
Our suggestions include;
1.Abolish the council tax or add an average of 86 pence a week to it to restore the 100% council tax benefit.
2. Control rents because landlords treat housing benefit like a cash cow.
3. Relate statutory minimum incomes to the level of rents and the minimum quanitites and prices of food, utilities, clothes, transport and other necessities in the market, needed for healthy living.
4. Introduce a land value tax (LVT) which would enable the abolition of council tax, the business rates, and maybe, stamp duty, inheritance tax and some other inefficient taxes.
5. LVT would also tax empty homes and unused property.
6. Building more homes is urgent but the crisis is now; they should not be bought by any foreign speculator, and left empty, in the international property free market that the UK has become.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road,
London N17 0BF
also at www.z2k.org
also at www.prohousingalliance.com