Unpaid council tax, court costs and lawful expenditure

February 29th, 2016 by Peter Oldham QC

On Thursday 25th February, the Divisional Court gave judgment in the case of Rev Paul Nicolson v Grant Thornton.  This was Rev Nicolson’s appeal under the Audit Commission Act 1998 against the refusal of LB Haringey’s auditor to make a declaration of an unlawful item of account or issue a public interest report.

Rev Nicolson is an anti-poverty campaigner. He refused to pay council tax, and when he was taken to the magistrates’ court he lost and was ordered to pay costs of £125. The council’s right to claim costs was given by the Council Tax (Administration and Enforcement) Regulations 1992. Haringey had a standard costs claim of £125 in such cases.  In a prior judicial review claim,  R ota  Nicolson v Tottenham Magistrates [2015] PTSR 1045, it had been held that the magistrates’ order had been unlawful as, at the hearing of the summons, there had been insufficient information for the magistrates to say whether £125 was a reasonable estimation of the costs incurred.

However, when Rev Nicolson also, and separately, objected to the auditors, they decided that the local authority had had sufficient information on which to decide that £125 was a proper charge.  The sum included aggregated costs, both direct and indirect, divided by the number of council tax summonses which Haringey had to deal with per year.   Accordingly the auditors decided that the item of account was lawful.  Rev Nicolson appealed.  The Divisional Court dismissed the appeal.  It declined to say that the auditors’ decision was unlawful, since they had considered the relevant factors,  and had given cogent reasons explaining their view.

Peter Oldham QC


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