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Local authority slapped by judge over 'irrational and unfair' council tax policy

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Local authority slapped by judge over 'irrational and unfair' council tax policy

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Communities, Housing, Legal

Local authority slapped by judge over 'irrational and unfair' council tax policy Local authority slapped by judge over 'irrational and unfair' council tax policy

A local authority's decision to ban council tax support for residents who have lived in its borough for under two years has been branded "irrational and unfair" by a judge.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) took Sandwell Council to judicial review over the policy, which was introduced in 2013 in an attempt to stop claimants moving to the borough from London in the wake of the £26,000 benefit cap in the capital.

CPAG won the legal test case on behalf of three vulnerable women who were charged a higher rate of council tax because they only recently moved to Sandwell.

Ruling at the High Court, Mr Justice Hickinbottom said that Sandwell Council had failed to comply with government policy and ensure council tax support schemes provided for the most vulnerable.

The 3,600 people living in the borough refused a council tax reduction because of the rule so far should now be entitled to claim their money back.

The claimants represented by CPAG included a victim of domestic violence, a widow and a woman with mental health problems.

Two of the women were originally born in Sandwell and have close relatives living there. They were each sent full council tax bills which they could not afford to pay. One was threatened with bailiffs and two have had to leave Sandwell altogether.

Mr Justice Hickinbottom ruled that the two-year residency rule was unlawful on six separate grounds. The council acted outside its statutory powers; the two-year rule is irrational and discriminates on grounds of race and gender; and the council failed to hold any consultation or comply with its equality duties.

The judgment means other councils who have adopted minimum residency rules will have to review their policies.

Alison Garnham, CPAG's CEO, said: “This ruling confirms what should have been obvious to the council from the start: it cannot be sensible or right to charge people on low incomes a higher rate of council tax simply because they are new to the area.

"If Sandwell Council had given any thought to this policy, or held a consultation it might have realised this earlier. Instead thousands of people have been threatened with arrears and some people, even those who like these claimants were originally born and bred in Sandwell, have been forced to move away."

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