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Thousands receive prison threats due to late council tax

Rising numbers of people are being threatened with prison over late council tax payments, with 4,800 people taken to court in 2016-17.

Data seen by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme has shown the extent to which people are being pushed by councils to pay their taxes or face jail time.

The figures, from the Institute of Money Advisors (IMA), show an 11% increase in prison threats since 2013. This includes at least 62 people who were actually sent to jail over the course of this year.

Freedom of Information requests to 279 of 348 councils in England and Wales also revealed that the average council debt in the cases cited was £2,213.

Cllr Claire Kober, chair of the LGA’s Resources Board, said: “Before councils take legal action, which is used as a last resort, people will have been encouraged to apply for monetary support and efforts will have been made to either attach the debt to a salary or arrange new payment plans.

“Local Government is built on the simple principle that everyone who lives in a community should also contribute to it. This means funding services that we all use through council tax, and it is not fair for the overwhelming majority of citizens that pay their council tax to let those who don’t pay their fair share continue to do so.

“Councils face a £5.8bn funding shortfall by 2020, which is why it’s essential councils collect these funds. Councils offer a variety of support to people on low incomes, or who are struggling with financial difficulties, through signposting to free debt advice, or through the joint Council Tax Protocol, which the LGA has developed alongside Citizens Advice to support those who are struggling.”

The law requires councils to try and recover the debt using bailiffs, as well as “enquiring” into the defendants means to pay.

However, the IMA has claimed that this is not always interpreted in the correct way, leaving some people unfairly punished.

Top image: Joe Giddens

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