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The fight against council tax benefit cuts

Haringey resident Reverend Paul Nicolson is refusing to pay his council tax in protest at the cuts to council tax benefit and other government welfare ‘reforms’ that are making many people poorer and pushing them further into debt and poverty.

He has said that “civil disobedience is morally defensible if it highlights laws which are morally indefensible”.

He has been summoned to appear for a liability order hearing on Friday 2 August at Tottenham Magistrates Court, where there will be a protest to support him and a ‘speak-out’ for those affected by government policy to share their stories.

We'll be there to support him.

The cut to council tax benefit is one of the government's nastiest "reforms."

We spent several hours last Thursday outside Leeds magistrates court – to which 3000 people had been summonsed for non-payment of council tax. The council confirmed that those summonses were issued predominantly for people who have been hit by the council tax benefit cut that came in earlier this year.

With the council tax benefit cut (see our Guardian story on the number of people who were expected to be affected by that cut here), people who previously paid little or no council tax – because their incomes were so low -  must now pay a proportion of it. Leeds city council is enforcing this cut, with predictable results – hardship and people in tears outside the magistrates' court as the terror of further costs and even arrest takes over.  Here's council leader Keith Wakefield saying that sometimes people on benefits need a “toughlove” approach. Shame we don't see the same toughlove being applied to the financial sector, or to the senior management teams at G4S and Serco for £50m worth of fraud, but there you go.

On Thursday, we talked to people who were in tears about their council tax bills. A woman called Claire, for example, cried as she explained that she was on employment and support allowance, had a teenage daughter who was still living at home and studying and said that she would have to cut her food money to pay her council tax bill - which with costs now stood at about £200. Claire had gone into the court building with her summons letter and come out having agreed to pay £12.50 a fortnight – no small sum for her out of her benefit. “I didn't know whether to come here or not, but I didn't know if they could arrest you [if you didn't attend]. Do you know if they can arrest you?” She said she'd tried to make an appointment at her local Citizens' Advice Bureau to get some advice, but the CAB was so busy with people with similar "welfare reform" problems that she hadn't been able to make contact.

A young man called David showed his summons letter – he'd built up council tax arrears of about £130 and it seemed that another £65 in costs had apparently been slapped on the top of it. “What is that for?” he asked. “I can't afford to pay it.” Leeds council and the courts (as happens all over) have whacked costs on top of the outstanding council tax sums – the “logic” here being that people who can't afford to pay their new council tax bill will of course be in a position to pay £60+ in court costs as well. Another man called Mark said he was not going to pay. He couldn't afford to, but he'd also decided not to. He didn't think the process was legal and wanted to know more about his rights before he tried to pay up.

The purpose of the hearing was for the council to apply for liability orders, although council officers were also inside making “arrangements” with people to pay. Liability orders are dreadful. Liability orders, as the council puts it, “give us the right to demand information about you and give us “certain powers” which we can use to obtain payment.” Those “certain powers” include taking money from people's low pay, or small benefits and sending the bailiffs round to take your dwindling possessions.

All power to the Reverent Nicolson. It's the disabled, sick, unemployed and poorly-paid who are paying for austerity.

He said:

“At my appearance before the magistrates on Friday, I will oppose the application for a liability order by Haringey Council enabling them to enforce my council tax and costing me £125. I am refusing to pay the tax in sympathy and solidarity with many benefit claimants in Haringey, who cannot pay 20% of the council tax, let alone the £125 price of a liability order, while their financial hardship is getting worse and worse due to the benefit cuts and caps."

Support Paul Nicolson on Friday:
9:30am, Friday 2 August
just opposite Bruce Castle park. Buses: 318, 243, 123. Or it’s a short walk from Tottenham High Road (junction with Lordship Lane and Lansdowne Road).
NB: it is not at the Crown court near Wood Green!

See more about the event at the Disabled People Against Cuts site


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