Poverty should not be a crime, says council in bid to stop residents being jailed for council tax arrears

Merton Council has called on the Government to abolish outdated laws that allow councils to jail residents for non-payment of council tax, as the financial hardship of the virus continues to hit those on low incomes.

Despite the borough refusing to jail anybody for non-payment of council tax in more than ten years, the practice still happens across the country – with around 700 people jailed in that period because they can’t afford their payments.

And as the virus continues to hit those on low incomes in London – particularly those in hospitality, who are facing lengthy periods without earning, the council’s Cabinet Member for Finance Councillor Mark Allison, has written to Secretary of State for Communities, Robert Jenrick, to ask for common sense to prevail.

Councillor Allison, said: “It’s a fundamental wrong that in this country you can be jailed for being poor or living in poverty, and I hope Mr Jenrick listens to these concerns at this critical time for so many hard-working families.

“Yes, everyone needs to pay their council tax – it pays for the services to help those in need, and our services have never been more critical than during the pandemic. But how can it be fair to jail someone because they can’t afford to pay it?

“In the London Borough of Merton, nobody has been jailed for this offence in more than a decade, but it is still happening. In that same period, more than 700 people have been jailed – for not having enough money.

“With thousands in London on low incomes currently staring at an even longer period of hardship, we need to scrap this unnecessary threat to people who are simply struggling financially.”

Merton Council has ensured maximum financial support for residents and businesses throughout the pandemic – including one of the highest distribution rates for small business grants, financial support for those on low incomes through council tax discounts, and maintaining the highest level of Council Tax Support in London for those on low incomes.