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article imageOp-Ed: An alternative to fining Council Tax defaulters

By Alexander Baron     Nov 5, 2013 in Politics
Willesden - Brent Council has issued summonses to almost 3,500 (three thousand five hundred!) council tax defaulters, but is there a better way?
Yes, that is not a missprint, here is a BBC report. The man responsible for the summonses, Councillor Muhammed Butt, defended his actions, but the bad news is that last month another London council took similar action issuing nine thousand summonses across the borough!
All those summonsed are on low or no incomes, and as they can't pay this tax anyway, does it make a happorth of sense to add to their burdens with fines and court costs? Ultimately, some people could be evicted, which would mean the councils would be obliged to find them emergency accommodation, which inevitably costs more than ordinary council property. This begs the question, is there a better way to deal with them?
Low risk offenders are often handed community service orders, community payback the scheme is now called. In New York, Naomi Campbell was set to work cleaning the streets. Lindsay Lohan was set to work in a morgue, presumably as a none-too-subtle hint that this was where she would end up unless she mended her ways and quit abusing drugs.
So what to do with council tax defaulters? As councils are so strapped for cash, it would make good sense to set to work those who could doing something meaningful: cleaning up the local parks, sweeping the streets, or even simply delivering messages and internal letters. Councils need money to get things done; all gainful employment is really a form of trade: employee performs services for employer; employer pays employee. Freecycle, LETS and similar schemes have shown that on a small scale, barter can work in the modern world, money is not needed at all. So let us rephrase this: employee (tenant) owes employer (council) X pounds for work done (council tax), therefore employee works for employer until payment cleared.
Obviously this is not an ideal set up, but as a one-off involving a few thousand people, it has to be better than the alternative, which is to waste both council and court time, generate unnecessary work, and drive already impoverished individuals deeper into debt.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Council Tax, councillor Muhammed Butt, brent council
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