I n July 2016, Melanie Woolcock, a single mom from Bridgend in Wales, was offered an 81-day jail sentence for stopping working to pay her council tax. Not well adequate to work and getting advantages, she had acquired ₤ 4,742 in council tax financial obligations.
A court initially purchased her to pay ₤ 10 a week towards her arrears. While she maintained the payments for a few months, Woolcock eventually defaulted and was sentenced in her absence. In spite of making a last-minute payment of ₤ 100, on 8 August, bailiffs and two cops officers went to her house and took her to Bridgend police headquarters and then to HMP Eastwood Park.
” I was being treated exactly the like someone who had actually killed somebody,” she stated after her release. “But when you’re in there and you feel you haven’t committed a criminal offense, you feel a vast oppression being done to yourself.”
She is among 305 individuals imprisoned in the past six years in England and Wales for stopping working to pay their council tax, according to government figures launched following a freedom of info request by the Guardian. There were 6,278 suspended sentences gave out for the same offense because period.
Policy 47 of the Regional Federal Government Financing Act 1992 states people can be given jail sentences for not paying council tax just if they have done so due to “wilful overlook or wilful rejection”, meaning those who have fallen into arrears due to the fact that they can’t manage to pay ought to not be sent to prison. But advocates state much of those given prison terms have actually acquired the financial obligations since they can’t manage their costs.
Woolcock was released from jail after 40 days following an appeal. A judge found magistrates had actually failed to carry out an appropriate inquiry into her methods before sentencing. A subsequent high court judg ment ruled magistrates were making errors and wrongfully locking up people in 9.5% -18% of cases, but while “that level of mistake by magistrates is of concern and unacceptable”, it was too low to suggest “a problem intrinsic within the system”.
Following Woolcock’s case, the Welsh government chose to abolish custodial sentences for non-payment of council tax– a change that enters into force this month. Scotland and Northern Ireland do not penalize non-payment of regional taxes with prison.
In another case, a lady in her 40s from Kent, who asked to stay confidential, was dedicated to a closed ladies’s prison for 90 days for a council tax financial obligation of ₤ 2,684.28.
” They kept moving me from cell to cell, from one home block to another,” she stated. “I was terrified every night in case I got stabbed.” She said she was still suffering the results. “I’m still suffering to this day … It makes you always examine your shoulder,” the woman included.
Samuel Genen, a solicitor who represented both Woolcock and the female in Kent, stated he did not trust the figures from the Ministry of Justice in reaction to the Guardian’s FoI, as information offered in the past had actually often been insufficient and incorrect.
” The problem with imprisonment for council tax in England is just the system gets it wrong,” he stated. “Poor people are wrongly locked up and the government selects to do absolutely nothing.
” The federal government had an option, and even after being told that more than 15% of people a year are sent to jail unlawfully, they have chosen to do nothing … I unfortunately have no answer regarding why no one in federal government has actually acted.”
Naima Sakande, a females’s justice supporter at the Centre for Criminal Appeals, which has actually been campaigning for a law modification, stated the poorest were being hounded by some councils, which utilized the threat of imprisonment to acquire the cash from them.
” Prison should be scheduled for the most major of offences. It is unconscionable that we utilize the sanction for such a thing as civil debt,” she stated. “Poverty is not a criminal activity. England needs to step into the modern world and abolish jail time for council tax financial obligation.”
Alistair Chisholm from the debt charity PayPlan, who has actually performed research study into the usage of imprisonment for council tax debt, said there had actually been a great deal of focus on how the economic sector gathers financial obligations, but less on the general public sector.
” On the back of PPI scandals and aggressive debt collection after the monetary crisis, the George Osborne federal government introduced more regulation on debt collection, however they didn’t apply it to themselves,” he said.
A Bridgend county district council spokesperson said of Woolcock’s case: “Regional authorities have an obligation to recuperate unpaid council tax, however have no impact over court decisions.
” We comprehend that in this specific case the resident was jailed after stopping working to satisfy the requirements of the suspended sentence which had been released by the magistrates court. Our recommendations to anybody who is experiencing trouble in paying their council tax is to call us as early as possible so that we can help and recommend them.”
This content was originally published here.