Within Council Tax legislation the ultimate sanction for non-payment is committal to prison.
The process of committal involves an appearance before a Magistrate in order to answer the specific charges that the debtor has shown ‘wilful refusal’ or ‘culpable neglect’ in failing to pay.
In order to undertake any form of enforcement action a local authority must have obtained a liability order from the Magistrates Court. This order will have been granted following the earlier issuing of a Court Summons.
Enforcement Action following a liability order
When a liability order has been granted the local authority gain a range of enforcement options – Attachment of Benefit/Earnings, Bankruptcy, Charging Order, Enforcement Agent and Committal to prison.
Prior to making a request for Committal to prison a local authority is only required in legislation to have tried using an Enforcement Agent (Regulation 47 of the Council Tax (Administration & Enforcement) regulations 1992). Most local authorities will however have attempted several forms of recovery prior to considering Committal.
Disputing Liability, Discounts or Exemptions
It should be noted that any dispute of Council Tax liability, discount or exemptions cannot be considered by the Magistrate and falls within the remit of the Valuation Tribunal instead.
A local authority will apply to a Magistrates Court for Committal to prison if they feel that it is the only form of action that is left. The Magistrate will be asked to issue a summons for the debtor to attend the court for a formal hearing.
The Magistrates Court must make a full means enquiry as to the debtors ability to pay and should consider other available payment options before considering committal. The court must be satisfied that either ‘wilful refusal’ or ‘culpable neglect’ has occurred before they can sentence a debtor to imprisonment.
Magistrates are able to issue a prison sentence of up to 90 days if they make a finding of ‘wilful refusal’ or ‘culpable neglect’. This sentence will be reduced proportionally if payment is later received.
If you fail to appear in front of the Magistrate when summonsed you are liable to have an arrest warrant issued. This will enable the court to have you detained and brought in front of them.
Assistance from LGFA92
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This article is solely the view of LGFA92, the Council Tax experts, based on our interpretation of legislation. Your local authority is free to dispute this view. A binding decision may require the intervention of a valuation tribunal.