End Council Tax Imprisonment

Poverty is Not a Crime

As hard as it is to believe, between 2010 and 2017, nearly 700 people were sent to prison for not paying their council tax. Many have not defaulted on their debt voluntarily – they found themselves unable to pay due to a lack of resources.

APPEAL has acted in a number of cases of women imprisoned for the non-payment of council tax. Many of these women were bailed from prison and their prison sentence found unlawful.

Even a short time in prison can have a serious detrimental impact on mental health and social circumstances for women and their children. Prison can cause women to become homeless, have their children taken away and struggle to recover from the trauma of the experience

It’s time to end sending women to prison for civil offences such as the non-payment of council tax.

Melanie Woodcock spent 40 days in prison before being released

Not only is this Dickensian, we are getting it wrong

Evidence now shows that year after year there have been significant numbers of miscarriages of justice with people being unlawfully imprisoned for non-payment of council tax. A high court judgement showed that at minimum, between 9.5% and 18% of people sent to prison for council tax non-payment, are sent there unlawfully.

This is likely to be one of the largest mass miscarriage of justice in British history.

Success in Wales!

In November 2018, Wales announced it would end the use of imprisonment for the non-payment of council tax. This enormous success was due in large part to the amazing campaigning work done by APPEAL supported Melanie, a woman wrongfully imprisoned for being poor. Our campaign efforts were cited in the Government consultation document on ending the practise, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our supporters and allies, so thank you!

Read more about this victory here.

Come on England

Scotland and Northern Ireland do not use imprisonment as a sanction for council tax debt. Wales has become the next country to recognise that poverty is not a crime.

Now it remains for England to do the right thing.

What can you do?

Find your MP

You can find your local MP using this link.

Copy the draft text into an email

For ease, we have included some draft text you can send below.

Personalise, then send

Be sure to include your name and postcode in the email so they know you are a constituent.

Copy any responses to us

If your MP emails you back, please forward their email to tara@appeal.org.uk. We want to keep a track of our supporters so we can lobby them for change!

THANK YOU for your help in fighting for justice!!

 

Draft email

Dear MP,

I am writing as your constituent to raise that as hard as it is to believe, between 2010 and 2017, nearly 700 people were sent to prison for not paying their council tax. Many have not defaulted on their debt voluntarily – they found themselves unable to pay due to a lack of resources. In a recent case APPEAL represented a single mother who in caring for an elderly neighbour fell behind on her council tax and was sentenced to 81 days in prison. APPEAL successfully challenged her committal to prison, she was released and her imprisonment was ruled unlawful. She should never have had to spend time behind bars simply for being poor.

Poverty is not a crime

Scotland and Northern Ireland have abolished this practice. Wales announced in November 2018 that it was taking the historic step of ending the use of imprisonment for council tax debt. 11 of the 14 local authorities who replied to the Welsh Government’s consultation agreed in principle with removing the option of imprisonment for non-payment.

The Welsh Finance Minister, Mark Drakeford, stated, “it is right that those who are less able to contribute are treated fairly and with dignity. The sanction of imprisonment is an outdated and disproportionate response to a civil debt issue.”

He added: “There is little evidence of a relationship between the use of the committal process and collection rates while there is growing evidence that collection levels and arrears are best managed through early engagement with citizens.”

Come on England

England is the only country in the United Kingdom that still pursues this outdated and cruel punishment for a civil debt.

Even a short time in prison can have a serious detrimental impact on mental health and social circumstances for women and their children. Prison can cause women to become homeless, have their children taken away and struggle to recover from the trauma of the experience. The removal of liberty needs to be reserved for the most serious offenders, and the poor and vulnerable should not be targeted in this way.

Help us right this wrong

Please support us by raising unlawful imprisonments for council tax debt with the Secretary for State for Levelling Ip, Housing & Communities and the Secretary of State for Justice by:

  1. Writing to them and demanding that the provision enabling imprisonment for failure to pay council tax be abolished in England;

  2. Raising a Parliamentary Question asking when England’s law on council tax imprisonments will be brought in line with the rest of the UK

  3. Requesting a Westminister Hall debate on the issue

The law charity APPEAL are leading the call for council tax reform. Support them by posting on X @we_are_APPEAL and using the hashtag #povertyisnotacrime or #comeonengland.

It is time to end to imprisonment for council tax non-payment. Poverty is not a crime.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Your Address and Postcode

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APPEAL is the working name of the Centre for Criminal Appeals, a Charitable Company Limited By Guarantee and a law practice authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Registered Charity Number: 1144162 | SRA Authorisation Number: 621184 | Company Number: 7556168

1 Comment

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