Council's tax policy ruled unlawful for penalising the poor

July 30, 2014

Child Poverty Action Group has won a legal test case for three vulnerable women who were charged a higher rate of council tax because they only recently moved into the area. The High Court struck down Sandwell Council's policy of refusing a council tax reduction to anyone who had not lived in the area for at least two years.

Since 2013 Councils have had a duty to set up schemes reducing council tax for people in financial need. Sandwell Council in West Midlands adopted a policy of excluding anyone from claiming a reduction in their council tax unless they had lived continuously in the borough for at least two years, regardless of their ability to pay. The Council’s aim was to discourage people from moving to Sandwell from London and the South East to avoid the effects of the Government’s welfare reforms. 3,600 people living in Sandwell have been refused a council tax reduction because of the rule so far. They should now be entitled to claim their money back.

The claimants included a victim of domestic violence, a widow and a woman with mental health problems. Two of the women were originally born in Sandwell and have close relatives living there. They were each sent full council tax bills which they could not afford to pay. One was threatened with bailiffs and two have had to leave Sandwell altogether.

In a judgment highly critical of the Council, Mr Justice Hickinbottom ruled that the two year residency rule was unlawful on six separate grounds. The Council acted outside its statutory powers, the two year rule is irrational and discriminates on grounds of race and gender and the Council failed to hold any consultation or comply with its equality duties. The judgment means other Councils who have adopted minimum residence rules will have to review their policies.

Alison Garnham, CEO of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

“This ruling confirms what should have been obvious to the Council from the start: it cannot be sensible or right to charge people on low incomes a higher rate of council tax simply because they are new to the area. If Sandwell Council had given any thought to this policy, or held a consultation it might have realised this earlier. Instead thousands of people have been threatened with arrears and some people, even those who like these claimants were originally born and bred in Sandwell, have been forced to move away".

ENDS

Notes to Editors
  • CPAG is the leading charity campaigning for the abolition of child poverty in the UK and for a better deal for low-income families and children
  • CPAG is the host organisation for the Campaign to End Child Poverty coalition, which has members from across civil society including children’s charities, faith groups, unions and other civic sector organisation, united in their campaigning for public and political commitment to ensure the goal of ending child poverty by 2020 is met.

 

For further information please contact: Jane Ahrends, CPAG Press Officer

Tel. 020 7812 5216 or 07816 909302 or jahrends@cpag.org.uk