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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Question legality of council tax liability orders

From Revd Paul Nicolson of Taxpayers Against Poverty

Dear all,

With the advice of the lawyers running this case
I have sent the following letter to all councils and magistrates courts in England and Wales. It would be good if you can get
 local papers to
 them both what they intend to do about it. They have been asked to;

"..... to cease seeking orders for council tax liability order costs until they have reviewed the legality and rationality of the orders which they seek".

If they say they have not got
my letter
 then send me the email addresses of the council leaders and local magistrates court then I will send it to them. 

The Zacchaeus 2000 Trust is running a campaign in London about council tax  so they will be sending a similar letter to London councils and Magistrates courts.

Good wishes, 


To; Council Leaders in England and Wales
cc; Magistrates Courts

Reverend Paul Nicolson v Tottenham Magistrates & The London Borough of Haringey

I attach the approved note of the judgment and the order for directions of Mr Justice Green granting permission on 7 October 2014 to myself to challenge the decision of the magistrates to award costs against me at the hearing of Haringey Council’s application by Tottenham Magistrates against me for a council tax liability order on 2 August 2013.

I am inviting all councils to cease seeking orders for council tax liability order costs until they have reviewed the legality and rationality of the orders which they seek.

I are aware that since April 2013 you all embark on the enforcement of council tax arrears against the benefit incomes of late and non-payers whose increases are frozen at 1% a year while the prices of food, domestic fuel and other necessities are escalating, and which are being forced to pay rent due to LHA, bedroom tax, the £500 benefit cap and DWP sanctions.

Liability order costs orders are granted in bulk, sometimes over 1000 at a time,  by the magistrates. The costs are mostly disproportionate against the benefit incomes adding to the known distress of debt and poverty.

Further to the permission hearing on 7 October 2014, it now appears to me that there must be serious doubts as to the legality of the costs orders sought by many councils in respect of unpaid council tax.  A 2004 Haringey Council Minute referred to in the skeleton argument lodged on my behalf indicates that costs may have been set by reference to objectives of deterrence and funding other enforcement action; is that so in your council?

If so, having regard to the decision in Attfield v Barnet LBC [2013] EWHC 2-89 Admin) [2013 PTSR 1559, all such demands for costs are plainly ultra vires regulation 34 of the Council Tax (Administration & Enforcement) Regulations 1992.   The costs provisions of these regulations are not set as a revenue raising measure, nor do they confer punitive or deterrent powers.  They only permit costs to be sought and awarded by reference to costs actually and reasonably ‘incurred’.

Moreover, it did not appear that the Council could either produced or can produce an adequately reasoned justification for the levels of costs which it claims are incurred in issuing summons and seeking liability orders; is that the case in your council?

I also ask your councils to draw the attached approved note of the judgment and the sealed order for directions to the attention of any future bench of magistrates considering your applications for liability orders. I am copying the attachments to the magistrates with whom you may wish to initiate discussions. They may wish to be satisfied that the amount claimed by way of costs in any individual case is no more than that reasonably incurred by the authority. (See 3.4 DCLG Council Tax Guidance to local councils on good practice  in the collection of Council Tax Justice Network arrears)


In my view, this is the right course bearing in mind the Councils' duty to the courts, in circumstances where the overwhelming majority of respondents to applications for liability and costs orders will be unrepresented.

I would be grateful if you will confirm receipt of this letter and your undertaking to take these steps.

Rev Paul Nicolson

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