Benefits protest vicar’s council tax case delayed

Rev Paul Nicolson (Photo: Evening Standard)

Rev Paul Nicolson (Photo: Evening Standard).

A landmark council tax and benefits court case, in the UK, between a retired vicar and a London borough council has been adjourned, to Thursday August 4, by Tottenham magistrates.

The Rev Paul Nicolson appeared in court to defend himself against having not paid council tax of £2,800 in protest against “benefit cuts that are shortening people’s lives”.

The case was put back at the request of both sides but for different reasons.

Speaking outside the court after the seven-week adjournment, Rev Nicolson said: “l attended Tottenham Magistrates Court today to answer a summons to a liability order hearing for non-payment of £2,800 council tax to Haringey Council.

“The case was adjourned by the Magistrate at the request of both the council and myself but for different reasons. The council because they were not ready to address the issue I have raised; myself because I am awaiting the decision of the civil Appeal Court about whether they will hear my appeal against the High Court’s decision on the same issue as the one I have now raised with the magistrates.

“I am asking the council to explain why they did not raise with their auditors, Grant Thornton, the cumulative impact of benefit cuts, caps and council tax on the health and well-being of thousands of low income Haringey residents, in work and unemployment, when the council tax enforcement costs were being audited.

“I had raised the issue with Grant Thornton, Haringey’s accountants, when they were auditing the enforcement costs, now £115, that are imposed by the magistrates in bulk, sometimes 1000s at a time, on top of council tax and rent arrears and while individual’s and family’s income is stopped for three months during a benefit sanction. They replied ‘we have no remit …to opine on the impact of this policy on the well-being of those required to pay council tax’.

He said that his question is ‘Why no remit?’ when the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) has guidance, issued to courts and councils. This specifically draws attention to the vulnerable circumstances of residents with a disability, the seriously ill, pensioners, single parents, pregnant women, the recently bereaved.”

What’s more, Rev Nicolson said that minister Lord Freud has written in a letter to him that “Four principles have underpinned welfare reforms. First the welfare system should support the elderly, vulnerable and disabled people…”.

And, remember, those words come from the government’s welfare reform minister at the Department of Work and Pensions.


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Retired vicar faces jail in benefit cuts protest

Opinions expressed in this blog, unless attributed to others, are mine alone – Ian Franks

Rev Paul Nicolson (Photo: Evening Standard)

Rev Paul Nicolson (Photo: Evening Standard)

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.



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