Tottenham Magistrates blind to ill health, disability or hunger drop cluster bombs of costs on Haringey residents
From the Reverend Paul Nicolson - To The Magistrates, Tottenham Magistrates Court, Lordship Lane, London N17 6RT
Cc The London Borough of Haringey
6th June 2016
I have been summoned by yourselves to appear in Tottenham Magistrates Court on Wednesday 15th June 2016 for non payment of council tax.. There are three grounds on which I am claiming that Haringey’s £102 costs for a summons plus £13 for a liability order, agreed by Tottenham magistrates are unlawful.
1. Grant Thornton refused to consider the vulnerable circumstances of 1000s of Haringey residents, when auditing Haringey Council’s council tax summons and liability order £125 costs: “We have no remit … to opine on the impact of this policy on the well-being of those required to pay council tax”.
2. Tottenham Magistrates drop cluster bombs of debt on Haringey residents. The Court is blind to individuals’ vulnerability, disability, health or existing debts, when granting Haringey council liability orders for council tax arrears plus costs in bulk sometimes 1000s at a time.
3. Haringey Council made a meaningless oath/affirmation to Tottenham Magistrates on the 12th August 2015 when proposing a reduction of enforcement costs from £125 for a summons and a liability order to £102 for a summons plus £13 for the liability order.
1. In April 2013 the Westminster government cut housing benefit twice, with the bedroom tax and the benefit cap, so leaving rent to be paid out of single adult JSA of £73.10 a week and out of children’s benefits, whose increases were frozen at 1%. Also from April 2013 Haringey councillors decided to tax those benefits by cutting council tax benefit by 20%, which was “in all likelihood to cause real hardship, while sparing its more prosperous residents from making any contribution to the shortfall in government funding” Supreme Court 19th October 20
2. No assessment has been made by national or local government of the cumulative impact of all the cuts, caps and council tax on the health of 1000s of the 58.2% of residents who rent their homes in the London Borough of Haringey. Poor maternal nutrition as a result of inadequate income and unmanageable debts inflicted by the State risks low birth weight inflicting life time ill health on children and short life for adults.
3. In 2011, the proportion of births classified as a low birth weight birth was 8.1% in Haringey compared to 7.4% in England and 8.0% in London. The percentage of low birth weight has increased in Haringey from 7.4% in 2010. The incidence of low birth weight is over 10% of live births in one Haringey ward and over 9% in two others. In two wards life expectancy is 17 years shorter in Haringey at 71 years than in Kensington and Chelsea at 88 years. (I was born in Kensington in 1932 to a relatively wealthy family of Wine Merchants and so my life expectancy is 88. I now live in Tottenham between two wards, with a high level of deprivation, where life expectancy is 71. On average residents who were born in those wards in the same year as myself died 13 years ago PN)
4. Since April 2013 I have refused to pay the council tax as an act of Civil disobedience against national and local laws which damage the health and well-being of vulnerable Haringey residents.
5. I sent my objection to Haringey Council’s 2013/14 accounts to Grant Thornton Haringey’s auditors on the 19th September 2014 asking them to audit the council’s costs of £125 for both a council tax summons and a liability order.
6. Grant Thornton had ongoing discussions with Haringey Council between the 19th September 2014 and up to the 12th August 2015; on which date Tottenham Magistrates agreed to Haringey Council reducing the cost of a summons to £102 and adding a further £13 making £115 for a liability order. On the 12th October 2015 I received Grant Thornton’s decision about my objection.
The law has been broken twice by Haringey Council, and once by the magistrates, both with impunity.
7. On the 29th October 2015 the Supreme Court found unlawful Haringey Council’s consultation of benefit claimants about their introduction of a new council tax benefit scheme (Now called Council Tax Reduction Scheme – CTRS). Benefit claimant have been required to pay 20% of the council tax by Haringey Council since April 2013. Moseley v Haringey.
8. On the 6th May 2015, in the High Court, Mrs Justice Andrews DBE found The Tottenham Magistrates and Haringey Council’s refusal on the 2nd August 2013 to tell me how they arrived at £125 costs for a liability order “indefensible” and declared my liability order unlawful. Every other liability order granted by the Magistrates to Haringey in 2013/14 council up to the 12th August, when it was reduced, were also unlawful but enforcement of council tax arrears plus £125 costs continued up to 12th August 2015. Nicolson v Haringey.
There are three grounds on which I am claiming that Haringey’s £102 costs for a summons plus £13 for a liability order, agreed by Tottenham magistrates are unlawful.
Ground A. Grant Thornton refused to consider the vulnerable circumstances of 1000s of Haringey residents, when auditing Haringey Council’s £125 costs: “We have no remit … to opine on the impact of this policy on the well-being of those required to pay council tax”.
9. Haringey Council failed to inform Grant Thornton about the guidance issued by the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Justice about the care councils should exercise when enforcing council tax in vulnerable situations. They have also ignored the judgement of the Supreme Court in Moseley v Haringey drawing attention to the taxation of “most economically disadvantaged residents” introduced in April 2013. On the 3rd May 2015 I wrote to Grant Thornton.
a. I am therefore hoping you will investigate whether LBH is losing money because the poorest residents are being taxed by a tax they cannot pay and if so by how much. I expect the council is predictably wasting and losing money trying to enforce the tax against people who cannot pay; and causing severe distress in many cases.
b. You might also consider asking the local GPs and NHS by how much their costs have increased due to the increasing impact of debt 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 accrue from the tax and its draconian enforcement.
c. The reasons residents cannot pay the tax are pretty obvious. The adult JSA benefit is now £73.10 pence a week. It has been diminishing in value since 1979, when it was 20% of average earnings to 11% average earnings in 2012. In 2008 residents that £72.10 and children’s benefits were first hit by the Local Housing Allowance and the start of the sanctions and then in April 2013 by the bedroom tax, the £500 cap, the 1% pa freeze in benefit increases, and the racking up of the number of benefit sanctions, while prices of food, utilities, clothes and transport escalated. There are more residents in poverty in work paying the council tax than in unemployment.
d. So we now have that £73.10 a week further diminishing in value and paying up to £24 week bedroom tax and £5 council tax and a then all the enforcement costs are added at £125 a time; that is the cost of a healthy diet for three weeks according to the Rowntree researches. Council tax arrears and court costs of £125 become unpayable by that income after rent has been paid. (I add now that the council despatched the bailiffs 12,000 times in 2013/14 adding a minimum of £75 to the costs and £235 if they make a visit).
On the 5th May Grant Thornton replied.
“We have no remit over related public sector bodies nor to opine on the impact of this policy on the well-being of those required to pay council tax”.
10. Haringey should have informed them of the guidance to councils of the DCLG, the MOJ about vulnerable situations and the decision of the Supreme Court. Grant Thornton was acting “in the shoes of the council”, when calculating the summons and liability order costs.
e. DCLG Council Tax Guidance to local councils on good practice in the collection of Council Tax arrears. “In particular this guidance deals with the kinds of help and support that Local Authorities should be giving to vulnerable residents , both in the run up to enforcement activity taking place and afterwards. It should not be seen as an inexhaustible compendium of good practice, nor does it seek to define the circumstances in which residents might be particularly vulnerable, as every situation is different. It draws from, highlights and should be seen alongside a range of existing good practice, including that set out in the original council tax codes of practice and the National Standards for Enforcement Agents.”
f. Taking Control of Goods: National Standards April 2014 paras 70-77. “Enforcement agents should be aware that vulnerability may not be immediately obvious. 77. Some groups who might be vulnerable are listed below. However, this list is not exhaustive. Care should be taken to assess each situation on a case by case basis. • the elderly; • residents with a disability; • the seriously ill; • the recently bereaved; • single parent families; • pregnant women; • unemployed residents ; and, • those who have obvious difficulty in understanding, speaking or reading English. (PN emphasis) 78. Wherever possible, enforcement agents should have arrangements in place for rapidly accessing interpretation services (including British Sign Language), when these are needed, and provide on request information in large print or in Braille for debtors with impaired sight.”
g. Mosely v Haringey in the Supreme Court – 29 October 2014. The five judges included in their judgement. “Those whom Haringey was consulting were the most economically disadvantaged of its residents. Their income was already at a basic level and the effect of Haringey’s proposed (council tax support) 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”. See paragraphs 22 and 29.
Ground B. Tottenham Magistrates drop cluster bombs of debt on Haringey residents. They are blind to individuals’ vulnerability, disability, health or existing debts, when granting Haringey council liability orders for council tax arrears plus costs in bulk sometimes 1000s at a time.
11. The magistrates allow Haringey Council the costs of over 20,000 council liability orders a year, often in bulk 1000s at a time. This is like dropping a cluster bomb of debt from a great height on London regardless of the vulnerability or wellbeing of Haringey’s residents.
12. Grant Thornton has allowed Haringey council to use, and the Magistrates have agreed to, the loosest possible application of the tight regulations which require the liability order costs to be “an amount equal to the costs reasonably incurred by the applicant in obtaining the order”.
a. The accountants accepted “broadly reasonable” and “not unreasonable” calculations and
b. Allowed Haringey’s charge “as much as possible” in their council tax costs.
The 1000s of vulnerable residents of Haringey have a legitimate expectation that their councillors will take their vulnerable circumstances into account and ensure that regulations are strictly adhered to when the costs are calculated.
11. It is inevitable that many vulnerable residents, who are experiencing hardship, will be unable to pay the £115 liability order costs, after a benefit sanctions, rent and council tax arrears and the freezing of benefits. Grant Thornton, should have taken into consideration the DCLG’s and MOJ’s concern in their guidance for the vulnerability many of the benefit claimants being taxed, should have insisted that the costs are not a penny more than those reasonably incurred. It was the responsibility of Haringey Council to make Grant Thornton aware of the DCLG and MOJ guidance.
12. The council insists irrationally that the £115 costs act a deterrent. That cannot be so for many residents who cannot pay the tax let alone the costs. Costs in law are neither a tax nor a penalty.
Ground C. Haringey Council made a meaningless oath/affirmation to Tottenham Magistrates on the 12th August 2015 when proposing a reduction of costs from £125 for a summons and a liability order to £102 for a summons plus £13 for the liability order.
13. Tottenham Magistrates have not required Haringey Council to state on oath/affirmation that the £102 costs for a summons plus £13 for a liability order comply with the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992. On the 12th December 2015 I received this letter from HMCTS North London Local Justice Area.
“I confirm that the documents available to the District Judge at the hearing at Tottenham Magistrates Court on the 12-08-2015 included the schedule of costs attached with this letter.
The Haringey officer presenting applications at this session confirmed under oath/affirmation that the information laid before the Court was in accordance with records of the Council. The costs schedule breakdown was adduced to support the sum sought in costs in individual applications of £102.00 plus liability order £13.00.”
14. I submit that an oath/affirmation that information laid before the court is “in accordance with the records of the council” is meaningless in the context the obligations of the Magistrates and the Council to comply with the relevant regulations. It is reasonable to expect the Magistrates to insist that Haringey Council confirm on oath/affirmation that the council’s calculations supporting the council tax costs of £102 for a summons plus £13 for a liability order fully comply with the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992.
Reverend Paul Nicolson,
6th January 2016