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Retired cleric takes benefits-cap stand

09 August 2013

HARINGEY INDEPENDENT

Making a stand: the Revd Paul Nicolson on his way to Enfield and Haringey Magistrates' Court in August 2013, for refusing to pay his council tax 

Making a stand: the Revd Paul Nicolson on his way to Enfield and Haringey Magistrates' Court in August 2013, for refusing to pay his council t...

AN 81-year-old priest, a veteran of civil disobedience, appeared at Enfield and Haringey Magistrates' Court last Friday, after refusing to pay his council tax, in a protest against benefit changes ( Letters, 31 May).

The priest, the Revd Paul Nicolson, a former assistant curate in Oxford diocese who retired in 1999, has been given a £125 liability order by Haringey Council. In total, he owes arrears and costs of £1016. He has vowed not to pay this unless the Council restores council-tax benefit, and the Government abandons the household benefit cap.

"I am asking the magistrates to reduce the cost of £125 for a liability not only for me, but for every application from the London Borough of Haringey," he told the court, the Haringey Independent reported. "The amount is inconsistent between courts, because in Newark, Nottinghamshire, people are charged £80, and in Truro, Cornwall, people are charged £100." The court upheld the order.

In April, council-tax benefit was replaced by a new scheme under which those of working age assessed as able to work are expected to make a contribution to their benefit, regardless of income. The so-called "bedroom tax" was also introduced at this time, reducing housing benefit for those deemed to have a spare bedroom.

Since April, Haringey has been a pilot borough for the Government's benefit cap, which restricts the total amount of money a non-working household can receive to the average earned income of working households. This has affected more than 1000 families in the borough.

The employment rate in Haringey is 66.8 per cent, compared with 70.4 per cent nationally. Of those aged 16-64, 17.4 per cent claim an out-of-work benefit. In April, the leader of the council, Claire Kober, reported that, in the Tottenham ward, there were more than 20 jobseekers for every vacancy. She has reported that of the 740 families in the borough severely financially disadvantaged by the cap, only 34 family members had found work.

"Benefits are being taxed and the price of necessities is escalating," Mr Nicolson said on Monday. "I know of one circumstance where a single mother had to walk to a food bank to pick up three days of food, and had to walk home because she cannot afford the bus. She then couldn't cook the food because she did not have the money to put in the meter."

He suggested that the injustice of the benefit changes was worse than the poll tax in the 1990s, which he had also refused to pay.

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