Haringey Unite Community must take the credit for Haringey Council’s decision to take the first steps towards scrapping council tax for the poorest in our borough. I am a member

20 August 2018

HARINGEY SCRAPS THE COUNCIL TAX FOR ITS POOREST RESIDENTS – 

A LONG AND PERSISTENT CAMPAIGN THAT HAS NOT YET ENDED

 
Haringey Unite Community must take the credit for Haringey Council’s decision to take the first steps towards scrapping council tax for the poorest in our borough. I am a member of this trades-union branch, which represents those who are in work and not in work, but I am not a member of the Labour Party or of any other political party. The political commitment of my faith is to work with and for the impoverished and the oppressed. 
 
Early in 2018, the character of the Labour Party in Haringey was changing. I put the case at one of our Unite Community meetings that a local authority that is taxing a broken national benefit system is damaging the health and wellbeing of Haringey’s poorest residents and their children. Haringey Labour Party members then raised this as a matter for discussion at their manifesto meeting, at which scrapping council tax for the poorest was adopted as manifesto policy for the May 2018 elections. Haringey Council’s new cabinet is honouring that commitment.
 
The good news has even reached the Isle of Wight, via its County Press: Haringey Council takes first step towards scrapping council tax for poorest: “A small but vital step towards reversing the ravages of austerity”. A great piece, even though, in referring to me, they mistakenly added an “h” to our family’s spelling of Nicolson.
Video of my deputation to the cabinet can be viewed here, from 6.45 mins to 16.45 mins. I made a particular plea for a review of council-tax enforcement, particularly when the bailiffs call to collect council tax from households with no money due to a benefit sanction. 
 

A potted history of Taxpayers Against Poverty’s campaign – which has not yet ended – follows: 

 
Our campaign against the taxation by local government of social-security incomes provided by national government began the moment it became clear in 2012 that this would become the policy of Haringey Council. Taxing benefits is at the discretion of local authorities under the Local Government Finance Act 2012.  37 out of 326 councils in England have not reduced their council tax benefit below 100%. Haringey reducuced their benefit to 80.2% leaving the JSA claiman to pay the 19.8% from £73.10 a week. 
 
As part of the austerity policies of the coalition government, councils had to consult benefit claimants about whether they wanted to be taxed. No alternatives were given in the consultation, one of which should have been to increase council tax by 86p a week to keep the 100% benefit for Income Support/Jobseekers’ Allowance/Employment Support Allowance claimants. We protested about the waste of officials’ time and taxpayers’ money when central-government officers provide social-security incomes and local-government officers take them away via the council tax. 
 
We initiated a legal challenge to Haringey’s consultation with the help of two brave single mothers who qualified for legal aid. Moseley v Haringey went the whole way to the Supreme Court. It was seen through by Ian Wise QC and the Solicitor Alex Rook. We won, but the council was not made to run the consultation again. Nevertheless, it was the first time the Supreme Court had dealt with a consultation, and its judgement set the rules for all local and national-government consultations thenceforth. The five Supreme Court judges commented: “Those whom Haringey was primarily consulting were the most economically disadvantaged of its residents. Their income was already at a basic level and the effect of Haringey’s proposed scheme would be to reduce it even below that level and thus, in all likelihood, to cause real hardship while sparing its more prosperous residents from making any contribution to the shortfall in government funding. Fairness demanded that in the consultation document, brief reference should have been made to other ways of absorbing the shortfall and to the reasons why, unlike 58% of local authorities in England, Haringey had concluded that they were unacceptable. The protest of The Rev. Nicolson in his letter dated 10 December 2012 was well-directed.” see Paragraph 29 of  the judgement. 
 
The damage done to the health and wellbeing of claimants by extracting council tax from the seriously inadequate and frozen social-security single-person Jobseekers’ Allowance income of £73.10 a week has been a consistent theme of TAP’s campaign since 2012 – particularly the substantial risk of poor maternal nutrition before and during pregnancy, resulting in low birth weight and lifetime mental and physical ill health.  Three days’ emergency supplies from a food bank does not cover the needs of a nine-month pregnancy. 
 
The Treasury Select Committee report Household finances: income, saving and debt, published on 26th July 2018, states “People become over-indebted through arrears on bills, including those owed to central and local government, such as council tax; and public authorities often pursue debts over-zealously, uncompromisingly and with routine recourse to bailiffs, which risks driving the most financially vulnerable people into further difficulty.”
 
To make the strongest possible protest for claimants, in 2013, I refused to pay my own council tax. 
  • I was summoned to Tottenham Magistrates Court, where I asked for a breakdown from Haringey Council of the court costs of £125 each for the summons and liability order, which were levied on those pursued for non-payment of council tax. Both the magistrates and the council refused to give me that breakdown. 
  • In 2014, Helen Mountfield QC and Eloise Le Santo of Matrix Chambers took that refusal to the High Court, which ordered the magistrates and the council to produce the breakdown. 
I then objected to Haringey Council’s 2013/14 accounts, asking Grant Thornton, its external auditors, to audit the aforementioned £125 covering both summons and liability-order costs. As I predicted, they found that those costs had been unlawfully amalgamated. They therefore split the costs and reduced them to £102 for the summons and £115 for the liability order.  The auditors could then either have made a report in the public interest or gone to court to seek a declaration Haringey was unlawful. They did neither. Throughout the audit, they refused to take into account the very vulnerable circumstances of claimants on Jobseekers’ Allowance of £73.10 a week. 
  • I appealed to the High Court. At the High Court, the council and the auditor colluded. I lost the case.
  • I asked the auditor’s regulator, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), to investigate Grant Thornton under their its code of ethics, which warns auditors not to get so close to their clients that they lose their objectivity. Haringey had to pay Grant Thornton not only for its annual audit, but also for countering my objection to the council’s accounts. Grant Thornton had no intention of being accountable to the public. It took over 18 months for ICAEW to decide to do nothing.
I have kept Prem Sikka, Professor of Accounting at the University of Sheffield and Emeritus Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex, informed about my complaint to the ICAEW. He commented: “It is rare for any complaint against ICAEW members to succeed and there is no way of knowing how the personnel selected to address it filter or weigh the evidence. The ICAEW does not owe a ‘duty of care’ to the public. It is a law unto itself. It has a reviewer of complaints and he is selected and paid by the ICAEW. Its code of ethics is just a fig leaf. The ICAEW’s regulatory status needs to be removed and replaced by robust and independent bodies.”  Professor Seeka is undertaking an inquiry into acountants/auditors following the Carillion debacle. It will include the private external auditors of the local authorities. 
 

 

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