Non-payment of Council Tax

January 23rd, 2017

In R (Woolcock) v Bridgend MC (2017) EWHC 34 (Admin) Lewis J quashed a suspended committal order, pursuant to Regulation 47 of the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992, because no proper means assessment had been carried out and the suspension period was manifestly excessive.  Lewis J said:-

“27.   The general principles governing the making of an order under regulation 47 of the Regulations are relatively well established in the case law.  For present purposes, the material principles are these.  First, the power to commit is intended to be used to extract payment of the debt not to punish the debtor.  Secondly, it is clear from the terms of the regulation that the magistrates’ court must conduct a means inquiry in the presence of the debtor and must consider whether the failure to pay is the result of wilful default or culpable neglect.  Thirdly, an order may be made if, but only if, the debtor is guilty of culpable neglect or wilful default. The means inquiry will need to consider the period or periods in respect of which liability is due in order to determine, amongst other things, whether non-payment is the result of culpable neglect.  Further, the means inquiry will need to consider the present position of the debtor to enable the magistrates’ court to determine whether the debtor is in a position to pay the debt and the magistrates’ court will need to consider what enforcement options are available to it to secure payment of the debt: …

  1. In the present case, in my judgment, there has not been a proper and adequate inquiry into the Claimant’s means. First, such an inquiry will need to consider income and expenditure to determine what the reasonable disposal income of the debtor was in relation to the periods in question. …
  2. Secondly, in my judgment, the magistrates did not carry out an adequate assessment of means for the purpose of determining whether to commit for non-payment, or to remit part or all of the debt. … They needed to determine whether or not the Claimant could make such payments or whether part or all of the debt should be remitted …
  3. Thirdly, the period of suspension for payment of the debt should not be an unreasonable or disproportionate period. If the period for repayment is unduly long, a suspended committal may be unlawful. Thus, the courts have indicated that periods of suspension in excess of 3 years are likely to be excessively long and so unlawful: …”

“38.    … The magistrates’ court failed to carry out a proper and adequate means inquiry as required by regulation 47 of the Regulations and were not in a position to determine if non-payment was the result of culpable neglect nor whether the orders were appropriate mechanisms for enforcing the debt. Further, the period of suspension was manifestly excessive and disproportionate. …”

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