Magistrates decide council tax liability orders in blocks of 1000s blinkered by accountants to austerity hardship

20 April 2016

Magistrates decide council tax liability orders in blocks of 1000s blinkered by accountants to austerity hardship

I have now delivered my skeleton argument to the Civil Appeal court seeking permission to appeal. It could be a month before I get an answer. Meanwhile the full text of the Skeleton Argument can be found here;

Reverend Paul Nicolson v Grant Thornton appeal Skeleton Argument final

The heart of my argument is in these paragraphs.

I emailed Grant Thornton the accountants auditing the £125 council tax costs awarded by the Tottenham Magistrates to Haringey Council 21,877 times in 2013/14 as follows on the 3rd May 2015.

"Please will you ask the local GPs and NHS by how much their costs have increased due to the increasing impact of debt and austerity on the health of residents since their benefits were taxed in April 2013. See Royal College of Psychiatrists* and The Faculty of Public Health*. The council now has responsibility for public health and that means prevention of the costs to the taxpayer of ill health that accrues from the tax and its draconian enforcement."  

To which can be added BMA, The Mental Health Foundation, The Faculty for Public Health, Mencap and Mind should this appeal go to trial.

Grant Thornton replied on the 5th May;

“I think it’s worth being very clear that in this case our remit as auditors only extends to whether the Council acted ultra vires . We have no remit over related public sector bodies nor to opine on the impact of this policy on the wellbeing of those required to pay council tax”.  

I was not asking him for his opinion but to take into account distinguished, powerful and relevant evidence about the impact of debts on mental health while considering the costs of the council, which add to the debts of poorest residents of the borough and are applied in bulk by the magistrates,  when auditing Haringey's £125 costs. .

The High Court ignored the case I made about financial hardship and the health of debtors being taked into aaccount when the level of costs are being settled by the Magistrates and the Council and their Accountants Grant Thornton; hence the following paragraphs.

12. This case is about the council and the magistrates issuing summonses and liability orders in bulk to enforce council tax against many vulnerable people claiming statutory minimum incomes in work and unemployment, and the failure of all authorities involved to consider relevant matters related to the substantial change in the benefit claimants financial circumstances in April 2013, and robust evidence of a link between their debts and mental health.

13. I argue that the judgment of Lord Justice Hamblen (the judgement) 25th February 2016 and the decision of  Grant Thornton of the 12th October 2015 were wrong because they did not consider relevant evidence;

i. the evidence of financial hardship (paras 27 to 32 of skeleton argument)
ii. the evidence of a link between debt and mental health problems that should be taken into account when the magistrates are agreeing the costs they award in bulk to local authorities which are added to the arrears of late and non payers of council tax. (paras 17,18,19 & 20)
iii. the evidence of a substantial change in the financial circumstances of all benefit claimants in April 2013. (para 25 & 26)
iv. guidance about “vulnerable situations” issued by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Communities and Local Government (para 34 and PN1 appendix).
v. the judgement of the Supreme Court in Mosley v Haringey (para 23)
vi. the assurances given by the Minister for Welfare Reform to the House of Lords on the 25th January 2012 during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 about the application of the Wednesbury principles to include benefit claimants’ health and financial circumstances (para 20)

14. Neither magistrates nor the council can known the financial circumstances or the health of all the late or non payers when they summons late and non-paying residents in bulk and the magistrates award liability order costs in bulk to the council, but that is no reason for ignoring robust evidence that the financial circumstances and health of residents are put at risk by debts enforced against low incomes.

Council tax summons and liability orders decided in blocks of 1000s

The magistrates decided;

• 2,168 liability orders in bulk (10:361) on the 13th June 2013, when only 43 attended court,
• and a further 2017 in bulk on the same day, of whom only 48 attended court,
• or the 1160 awarded in bulk, when only 45 attended or on the 2nd August 2013 when the applicant was summoned.

15.      32,237 (10:361) summonses were issued by computer in 2013/14. Computers are not yet programmed to be aware of the dire circumstances of many late and non payers. All the summonses have written on them in red;(10:358)

ln most circumstances, you do not need to
attend court. See details overleaf and yellow
sheet. Please do not send correspondence
to the Magistrates' Court.

Summons for 2014-15 council tax.

There are 1000s of cases dealt with in bulk by the magistrates whose opportunity to explain their financial circumstances to a council official during a visit to the court is actively discouraged by the council.

Rev Paul Nicolson

PS as a result of my intervention the 2015/16 summons cost have been reduced,  without considering financial hardship and health, from £125 to £102  and the liability order costs from £125 to £115; but there is no change to 2013/14 and 2014/15.  I am asking flor them all to be recalculated with all relevant evidence considered.