§ Lord Morris of Manchester
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What representations they have had concerning the penalty of committal to prison in default of payment of community charge, council tax and other local taxes; and whether they have any plans to amend the law to abolish the penalty. [HL167]
§ The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker):
On 22 August, the Zacchaeus Trust responded to our consultation on the draft Local Government Bill expressing its disappointment that the Bill does not contain provisions to abolish committal for non payment of local taxes.
The trust also responded to the Green Paper Towards Effective Enforcement and attended an open meeting of an Advisory Group on Enforcement Service Delivery in November 2001. The Lord Chancellor's Department has also received copies of the following reports: Debt, Poverty Traps, Eviction, Imprisonment & a Chasm—The Zacchaeus 2000 Trust—March 2002; Enforcing Debt—Understanding Distress—Church Action on Poverty—May 2002.
The Government have no plans to abolish committal for the wilful non-payment of local taxes, which serves to encourage payment of both council tax and non-domestic rates.
Committal is very much the last resort. Before seeking committal warrants, local authorities must first have tried other enforcement measures. Even where an application for committal to prison has been made, the courts cannot hand down prison sentences without a thorough examination in the presence of the debtor of the reasons for failure to pay. Magistrates can only order a sentence if they find that nonpayment was due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect on the part of the debtor. Indeed, magistrates have the power to remit all or part of a debt if they consider this is justified, for example, on grounds of severe financial hardship.