Opinions expressed in this blog, unless attributed to others, are mine alone – Ian Franks
An 84-year-old retired vicar, if a vicar can ever be really ‘retired’, is facing the threat of jail by making a stand against the UK government’s cuts to benefits paid to people with disabilities, those with low incomes and others without work.
The Reverend Paul Nicolson lives in Tottenham, London, and decided to speak out ahead of facing a court hearing, on June 15. It is the next step in his refusal to pay council tax since 2013, in protest against benefit cuts that he says are “shortening people’s lives”.
He states that he is prepared to be bankrupted and go to prison.
Rev Nicolson describes his protest as an “act of civil disobedience” in a fight against tax and welfare policies which he says unfairly hit those on low incomes.
“If you make people ill by not giving them enough income, forcing them into debt, you reduce the length of time they could possibly live,” he said. “National and local government are shortening people’s lives.”
Facing the very real possibility of being sent to prison, he said: “I’m absolutely ready for that. You don’t undertake civil disobedience without being able to take the consequences.”
He first refused to pay council tax in 2013 after the government controversially reformed housing benefit and introduced the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ and capped, or put a monetary limit on the benefits that could be claimed by any one household.
About the same time, his local council, the London Borough of Haringey, brought in a new scheme of council tax support for low-income earners and introduced enforcement charges of up to £125 for those in arrears.
Last year, Mr Nicolson won a legal challenge against the right of Tottenham magistrates’ court to implement the enforcement charge in his case but he still owes £2,800 in council tax arrears.
In addition, he lost a court challenge against Grant Thornton, Haringey council’s auditors. This was concerning the enforcement charges and ended up leaving him to foot a further bill of £47,000 in legal costs.
A spokesman for Haringey declined to comment on the case, only confirming: “Rev Nicolson’s hearing is on June 15 at Tottenham magistrates’ court.”
Maybe it is time some local people showed their support for the fighting Reverend.