Two leading names in the campaign against council tax imprisonment have turned up the heat on MPs and major political parties this week.
The Institute of Money Advisers (IMA) and free debt advice provider, PayPlan, have been at the forefront of a campaign against council tax imprisonment over the past few years. Wales finally ended the practice last April and the campaign is calling on England to catch-up.
The IMA and PayPlan have asked party leaders and outgoing Members of Parliament to support the call for reform in England: Prison should be reserved for serious criminals who pose a threat to society – not for people who have not paid a local bill.
Why is this important?
Nearly 700 people have been imprisoned for being behind with council tax since 2010. England is now the only jurisdiction in Western Europe that imprisons people for local tax debt. In 2017, a judicial review found that up to 17% of council tax jailings were likely to have been unlawful.
The minimum threshold for bankruptcy is £5,000. However, the law in England allows people with council tax debt to be threatened with imprisonment for much less than this. In 2017, the average council tax debt for people issued with committal proceedings was £2,213. The argument here is that threatening prison for council tax debt is not proportionate
The IMA and PayPlan’s reports explain that imprisoning people with council tax debt is expensive for the tax payer, and does nothing to ensure the debt is paid back. In fact, it puts imprisoned individuals and their families in a worse position. The average cost of a place in prison in 2015/16 was £32,510 a year, or £88 a day.
PayPlan and the IMA have since published three reports on imprisonment for council tax debt and improving the treatment of people struggling with council tax debt.
Alistair Chisholm, Head of Advice Sector Policy and Partnerships at PayPlan, commented:
“Imprisonment serves little purpose because the debt still remains at the end. Instead of being supported with realistic payment plans, too often people are being penalised with court fees and harsh collection activity by their local council.
Robert Wilson, Chief Executive of the Institute of Money Advisers, said:
“With the General Election fast approaching, we hope that England’s politicians will ensure their manifestos offer help to people struggling with council tax bills, and end the outdated practice of threats and incarceration of people in debt. Change needs to happen now.”