No prison for council tax debt

13 June 2018

The Welsh Government has pledged to abolish imprisonment for non-payment of council tax.

It will bring forward regulations in early 2019, pending the outcome of a 12-week consultation. Unlike other forms of civil debt, non-payment of council tax can result in up to three months imprisonment.

The number of people being sent to prison for council tax debt was highlighted in a case in January, R (Melanie Woolcock) v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government & Ors [2018] EWHC 17 (Admin). Lord Justice Hickinbottom noted that figures for 2014 show 6,477 applications for committal to prison were made in England and Wales, and 85 people were imprisoned.

Naima Sakande, women's justice advocate at the Centre for Criminal Appeals, which supported Melanie Woolcock’s judicial review, said the news was ‘a welcome acknowledgement that poverty is not a crime’ and called on the UK government to follow suit.

Welsh Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said: ‘The sanction of imprisonment is an outdated and disproportionate response to a civil debt issue.’