A PRIEST in Haringey, North London, is issuing advice to
residents facing court summonses, visits from bailiffs, and prison,
if they do not or cannot contribute towards council tax.
The priest, the Revd Paul Nicolson, who retired in 1999 and
founded the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, said on Monday that provision for
those in "vulnerable situations" was "never talked about" by
councils or bailiffs. He urged those present at the meeting to
The national standards for enforcement agents, published by the
Ministry of Justice, state that bailiffs have a part in "ensuring
that the vulnerable and socially excluded are protected, and that
the recovery process includes procedures agreed between the
agent/agency and creditor about how such situations should be dealt
with". The list of those deemed vulnerable includes the elderly,
people with a disability, and single-parent families.
Local authorities can send bailiffs to residents' properties in
a number of scenarios, including one in which the resident has
failed to pay his or her council tax and, as a result, a
magistrates' court has granted a liability order. Mr Nicolson said
on Monday that Haringey Council had sent out bailiffs 9004 times in
2013/14. His guidance for residents emphasises that bailiffs cannot
break into a home to enforce council tax, but can do so to enforce
a fine, collect goods, and sell them.
The guidance also advises those affected how to apply for a
discretionary payment and secure a doctor's letter, and it urges
them not to avoid a court summons.
Mr Nicolson opposes the decision by Haringey Council to demand
council tax from all residents of working age, regardless of
income. While pensioners and those in receipt of specified
disability benefits are protected, others formerly exempt from the
tax must now pay 20 per cent of the bill. Last year, Mr Nicolson
appeared in court after refusing to pay his own council-tax bill in
protest (News, 9
August). He was subsequently issued with a £125 liability
Last month, he challenged Haringey Magistrates' Court to explain
how it justified charging £125 for the orders, given to 23,227
households in 2012/13. "They must have known that people would not
be able to pay," he said on Monday. "The process is merciless and
The court had told him that his application was "futile and
academic", he said.
Mr Nicolson hopes that the case will be taken up by the High
Court, and said on Monday that it would be "wonderful" if he were
sent to prison, as it would draw attention to the plight of those
on low incomes seriously affected by the tax and liability orders.
He said that the money raised by levying council tax on those
previously exempt was equal to charging everyone else another 86p
On Tuesday, a Haringey Council spokesperson said: "We have a
statutory duty to collect council tax. The Government's decision to
abolish council-tax benefit, and instruct all local authorities to
introduce a new council-tax reduction scheme, left Haringey Council
facing a funding gap of almost £4 million.
"The introduction of Haringey's Council Tax Reduction scheme
followed extensive consultation with residents. Direct support from
the 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 £144 million up to
2016. Increasing council tax to cover the shortfall would have
meant placing an extra burden on thousands of hard-pressed local