PRISON IF YOU GET IT WRONG

A sad case of a vulnerable woman in her 50’s and in bad health being jailed for non-payment of council tax of £700, including fines, was recently featured in the national press, and supplied by charity Citizens Advice in York.

A magistrate decided that because she was paying off a catalogue debt before her council tax this constituted wilful refusal and helpfully and compassionately sent her to prison. In such cases there is no time off for good behaviour, only release if the full debt is paid, and her husband, also in bad health couldn’t pay. After she had served the full term, which affected her deeply, she entered insolvency and the debt she had been so severely punished for was written off anyway.

In fact council tax debt is not a crime but that doesn’t stop magistrates sending debtors to prison, to mingle with real criminals. And it doesn’t stop some councils risking the health, both mental and physical of those who don’t pay by taking them to court. England’s worst is Bradford Metropolitan Council, where court proceedings resulting in 18 being jailed. Second worst was Vale of Glamorgan council, where the number jailed was 14, and third worst was Coventry City Council where the number jailed was five.

Failure to pay for a TV licence, and the subsequent fines, resulted in jail, and mixing with real criminals, for 90 people last year.

Meanwhile caring councils have just been given leave to increase council tax charges by an average of £100 per household, twice the rate of inflation and three times the rate of wage growth.

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