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Council Tax: Non-payment

Volume 630: debated on Monday 30 October 2017

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on recent trends in the number of people given custodial sentences for non-payment of council tax. (901468)

It is for magistrates courts to decide whether a custodial sentence should be imposed for non-payment of council tax, taking account of the particular circumstances in each case. There has been a slight reduction in the number of such cases since 2009-10.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is it not time that the non-payment of council tax ceased to be an offence punishable by time in jail? How can it be right that anyone should have to do time for falling into debt?

I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that people in genuine hardship should be supported. That is why there are over 4 million people on local council tax support scheme payments throughout the country. However, we also need to recognise that every penny of council tax that is not collected means higher council tax bills for law-abiding citizens who do pay. There needs to be a form of enforcement and sanction, but it needs to be used proportionately. As the hon. Gentleman will see, the number of people getting a custodial sentence is actually falling.

Guidance to local authorities advises them to be sympathetic to those in genuine hardship. Does the Minister believe that a custodial sentence—with no right of appeal, no remission for good behaviour and no requirement for a pre-sentencing report—shows sympathy for those struggling to pay their council tax, and will it lead to more or fewer families being in genuine hardship?

Council tax, in real terms, is 9.1% lower than it was in 2010. During the Labour Government of 1997 to 2010, the cost of council tax doubled. As I said to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), 4 million people receive council tax support, and we are clear—we published guidance in 2013—about good practice. We want to make sure that those in genuine hardship are supported and that enforcement is proportionate.