END COUNCIL TAX IMPRISONMENT

Poverty is Not a Crime

As hard as it is to believe, between 2010 and 2017, nearly 700 people were sent to prison for not paying their council tax. Many have not defaulted on their debt voluntarily - they found themselves unable to pay due to a lack of resources.

The Centre for Criminal Appeals have represented and won on appeal a number of cases of women imprisoned for the non-payment of council tax. Many of these women were bailed from prison and their prison sentence found unlawful.

Even a short time in prison can have a serious detrimental impact on mental health and social circumstances for women and their children. Prison can cause women to become homeless, have their children taken away and struggle to recover from the trauma of the experience

It's time to end sending women to prison for civil offences such as the non-payment of council tax.

Not only is this Dickensian, we are getting it wrong

Evidence now shows that year after year there have been significant numbers of miscarriages of justice with people being unlawfully imprisoned for non-payment of council tax. A recent high court judgement showed that at minimum, between 9.5% and 18% of people sent to prison for council tax non-payment, are sent there unlawfully. 

This is likely to be one of the largest mass miscarriage of justice in British history.

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Who does this harm?

Melanie Woolcock, is a single mother and was caring for an elderly neighbour when she lost her job and fell behind on her council tax payments. She was not being neglectful or refusing to pay, she simply did not have the money. Despite this, she was sentenced to 81 days in prison. Finding support from the Centre for Criminal Appeals, her release on bail was secured and subsequently her imprisonment ruled unlawful.

Melanie should never have been sent to prison. Prison is not the way to manage poverty. 

Hear Melanie speak about her experience on BBC Wales here

 

Success in Wales!

In November 2018, Wales announced it would end the use of imprisonment for the non-payment of council tax. This enormous success was due in large part to the amazing campaigning work done by CCA supported Melanie, a woman wrongfully imprisoned for being poor. Our campaign efforts were cited in the Government consultation document on ending the practise, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our supporters and allies, so thank you!

Read more about this victory here.

Come on England

Scotland and Northern Ireland do not use imprisonment as a sanction for council tax debt. Wales has become the next country to recognise that poverty is not a crime. 

Now it remains for England to do the right thing.

What can you do?

We need to call on the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire to start the process of England ending council tax debt imprisonments.

You can help us by:

  1. Directing tweets to his handle @JBrokenshire using the hashtags #Povertyisnotacrime or #ComeonEngland, calling for England to leave the dark ages with this practise.

  2. Writing to Mr Brokenshire or your local MP and encourage them to begin repealing this outdated practise that criminalises poverty.

 Melanie Woodcock spent 40 days in prison before being released

Melanie Woodcock spent 40 days in prison before being released


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THANK YOU for your help in fighting for justice!!

Draft email

Dear MP,

I am writing as your constituent to raise that as hard as it is to believe, between 2010 and 2017, nearly 700 people were sent to prison for not paying their council tax. Many have not defaulted on their debt voluntarily - they found themselves unable to pay due to a lack of resources. In a recent case the Centre for Criminal Appeals (CCA) represented a single mother who in caring for an elderly neighbour fell behind on her council tax and was sentenced to 81 days in prison. CCA successfully challenged her committal to prison, she was released and her imprisonment was ruled unlawful. She should never have had to spend time behind bars simply for being poor. 

Poverty is not a crime

Scotland and Northern Ireland have abolished this practice. Wales announced in November 2018 that it was taking the historic step of ending the use of imprisonment for council tax debt. 11 of the 14 local authorities who replied to the Welsh Government’s consultation agreed in principle with removing the option of imprisonment for non-payment.  

The Welsh Finance Minister, Mark Drakeford, stated, “it is right that those who are less able to contribute are treated fairly and with dignity. The sanction of imprisonment is an outdated and disproportionate response to a civil debt issue."

He added: "There is little evidence of a relationship between the use of the committal process and collection rates while there is growing evidence that collection levels and arrears are best managed through early engagement with citizens."

As of April 2019, Wales will abolish the sanction of imprisonment for council tax debt. 

Come on England.

England is the only country in the United Kingdom that still pursues this outdated and cruel punishment for a civil debt.

Even a short time in prison can have a serious detrimental impact on mental health and social circumstances for women and their children. Prison can cause women to become homeless, have their children taken away and struggle to recover from the trauma of the experience. The removal of liberty needs to be reserved for the most serious offenders, and the poor and vulnerable should not be targeted in this way.

Help us right this wrong

Please support us by raising unlawful imprisonments for council tax debt with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, James Brokenshire, and the Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke by: 

  1. Writing to them and demanding that the provision enabling imprisonment for failure to pay council tax be abolished in England;

  2. Raising a Parliamentary Question asking when England’s law on council tax imprisonments will be brought in line with the rest of the UK

  3. Requesting a Westminister Hall debate on the issue

The law charity the Centre for Criminal Appeals are leading the call for council tax reform. Support them by tweeting @C4CrimAppeals and using the hashtag #povertyisnotacrime or #comeonengland.

Women in Prison is leading on the 2020 Ambition to reduce the women’s prison population to 2,020 by 2020, in which an end to sending women to prison for offences such as the non-payment of Council Tax is key. To pledge your support for the 2020 Ambition please reply to this email, tweet @WIP_live or go to www.WIP2020.org.uk.

It is time to end to imprisonment for council tax non-payment. Poverty is not a crime.

Sincerely,

Your Name

Your Address and Postcode

If you or a loved one are a woman and are being threatened with imprisonment for council tax non-payment, please get in touch with Naima Sakande, Women's Justice Advocate, on naima.sakande@criminalappeals.org.uk. We may be able to help.