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Council Tax: Non-payment

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 8547, tabled on 27 May 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many people were handed down a prison sentence due to non-payment of council tax in (a) 2019 and (b) 2020.

Answered on

11 June 2021

Non-payment of council tax is not a criminal offence and cannot attract a custodial sentence. However, as a last resort, a magistrates’ court has the option to commit an individual to prison for non-payment.

Before a magistrates’ court commits someone to prison for failure to pay their council tax, it must have issued a “liability order” and the local authority must have (at least) tried and failed to take control of the debtor’s goods and sell them to recover the debt. Councils have additional powers of enforcement under a liability order, including deduction from earnings, deduction from benefit, charging orders on the property, and bankruptcy. If a council applies for committal to prison, the court must inquire into the debtor’s means, and the council must satisfy the court that there is no other effective method of collection and that failure to pay is due to wilful refusal or culpable neglect. This is to prevent persons who are genuinely unable to pay their council tax from being committed to prison. Where that is the case, courts have the power to remit the debt.

Data on the number of non-criminal admissions to prison for non-payment of council tax, covering the period 1990 – 2020, can be viewed in Table A2.12 at the following link: