Council Tax: Sentencing

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 11th July 2019.

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Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many (a) women, and (b) men have been given a custodial sentence for the non-payment of council tax in each of the last five years.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Non-payment of council tax is not a criminal offence and cannot attract a custodial sentence.

Committal to prison can only ever be the last resort for non-payment of council tax. Before a magistrates’ court commits someone to prison for failure to pay their council tax, it must have issued a “liability order” and the local authority must have (at least) tried and failed to take control of the debtor’s goods and sell them to recover the debt. Councils have additional powers of enforcement under a liability order, including deduction from earnings, deduction from benefit, charging orders on the property, and bankruptcy. If a council applies for committal to prison, the court must inquire into the debtor’s means, and the council must satisfy the court that there is no other effective method of collection and that failure to pay is due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect. This is to prevent persons who are genuinely unable to pay their council tax from being committed to prison. Where that is the case courts have the power to remit the debt.

The number of people admitted to prison for non-payment of council tax, covering the period 1990 – 2018, can be viewed in Table A2.12 at the following link:

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