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Prison Sentences

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 44494, tabled on 2 September 2016

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many people have been sentenced to a term in prison for (a) non-payment of council tax, (b) watching television broadcasts without a television licence and (c) tax evasion in each year from 2008-09 to 2014-15.

Answered on

30 September 2016

The law and penalties in these three areas are different. The Government takes tax evasion very seriously. There is no single definition of “tax evasion” so there are several offences under which those who evade taxes can be prosecuted, with a maximum penalty of up to 7 years for the most serious cases under c) below. Watching television broadcasts without a television licence is also a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of a fine.

Non-payment of council tax is not a criminal offence. Where a person fails to pay the council tax after it has been demanded, the local authority may apply to the magistrates’ court for a liability order. Liability orders are granted for the amount owed plus reasonable costs. If they are still not paid the local authority can apply for a warrant committing an individual to prison; an individual cannot be fined for non-payment of council tax.

a) The number of people imprisoned following non-payment of council tax in England and Wales, by financial year from 2009/10 to 2014/15 can be viewed in table 1. The magistrates’ courts have been using their centralised case management system since early 2009 so data are only available from 2009/10.

b) Immediate custody is not an available sentence for TV licence evasion; the maximum sentence is a fine.

c) The number of offenders sentenced to immediate custody at all courts for offences relating to tax evasion, in England & Wales, by financial year from 2008/09 to 2014/15, can be viewed in table 2.

Table 1.

Individuals imprisoned for non-payment of Council tax 2009-10 to 2014-15
















Data are only available from 2009-10 onwards as Libra, the centralised case management system, has only been in use since early 2009.

The date is based on case completion date.

The report looks only at 'Complaint for Council Tax Committal Application' and 'Complaint for Council Tax Liability'.

The Total Imprisoned includes Committal to prison, Detention until court rises, Imprisonment and Imprisonment in default.

After the warrant is issued the defendant can pay the warrant in full or part payment in lieu of custody. Table 2.

Number of offenders sentenced to immediate custody at all courts for offences relating to tax evasion(1), England & Wales, by financial year 2008/09 to 2014/15(2)(3)















(1) Covers the following offences:

Sch.1 P.8(1) & Sch.1 P.8(2) Car Tax Act 1983

S.167 (1) Customs and Excise Management Act 1979

S.144 Finance Act 2000

S.95 Finance Act 2003

SS.10(5),10(6), 13(3), 13(4),14(6) & 14(7) Hydrocarbon Oil (Duties) Act 1979

S.35 Tax Credits Act 2002

S.72(3) & S 72(1) (8)Valueadded Tax Act 1994

(2) The figures given in the table on court proceedings relate to persons for whom these offences were the principal offences for which they were dealt with. When a defendant has been found guilty of two or more offences it is the offence for which the heaviest penalty is imposed. Where the same disposal is imposed for two or more offences, the offence selected is the offence for which the statutory maximum penalty is the most severe.

(3) Every effort is made to ensure that the figures presented are accurate and complete. However, it is important to note that these data have been extracted from large administrative data systems generated by the courts and police forces. As a consequence, care should be taken to ensure data collection processes and their inevitable limitations are taken into account when those data are used.

Source: Justice Statistics Analytical Services - Ministry of Justice.