Supreme Court to hear landmark council tax rebate case
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Legal
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A landmark case concerning local authorities’ obligations when carrying out public consultations will be heard by the Supreme Court today.
Believed to be the first of its kind, the case concerns Haringey Council's implementation of last April's council tax rebate system - which led to many residents paying council tax for the first time.
Law firm Irwin Mitchell, which is representing a single mother struggling with the new payments, claims the council's consultation was unlawful and didn't provide enough information for people to make an informed decision about the changes.
Last year, the government abolished the council tax benefit system in favour of a local rebate scheme, implemented by each council separately but with reduced funding.
This left a shortfall which Haringey Council decided to meet by requiring all residents who previously paid nothing, except disabled people and the elderly, to pay approximately 20% of their council tax.
At the time of the original legal challenge to the changes in Haringey, lawyers at Irwin Mitchell said the "poorest were being hit hardest" and that the council tax changes across the country were a "post code lottery which would see many vulnerable residents forced to pay council tax for the first time".
Following a Court of Appeal hearing in February last year which ruled in the council’s favour, Irwin Mitchell applied to the Supreme Court on behalf of residents of Haringey who believed the consultation was unfair.
Although the decision can no longer be quashed as the new system has already been implemented, residents hope that they may still be able to influence the future of the rebate system, and have asked the court to order that Haringey redo its consultation should it declare that the first consultation was unlawful.
Alex Rook, a specialist health and welfare lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Last year we warned that the council tax changes were going to hurt vulnerable residents who simply could not afford to pay under the new rules. Now just last month Citizens Advice revealed that they now receive more calls about council tax arrears than any other form of debt.
“Public consultation is extremely important to ensure there is proper local engagement and to make sure that people affected by decisions understand the background and can share their opinions to help shape local policies. We hope this case will provide clarity on the extent to which local authorities must consult with the public when introducing new policies such as this.
“This is understood to be the first time the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case about a council’s duty to undertake ‘public consultation.’ The importance of this issue should not be underestimated at the present time when local services are being cut back across the country.”
We are currently awaiting a response from Haringey Council.