Retired vicar Paul Nicolson succeeds in legal challenge against Haringey Council
PUBLISHED: 16:45 06 May 2015
A retired vicar has won a legal challenge against charges imposed by Haringey Council after he refused to pay his council tax.
The Rev Paul Nicolson, who lives in Campbell Road, Tottenham, refused to pay the tax in protest over the 100 per cent benefit being scrapped.
The 82-year-old – who is known as the “vicar of Dibley”, as the popular television show was filmed in the church where he was parish vicar – was then hit with an additional charge of £125 in costs, imposed by Tottenham Magistrates’ Court on behalf of Haringey Council.
Rev Nicolson asked magistrates to provide a breakdown illustrating how it had cost the council £125 to obtain a liability order.
Last week Mrs Justice Andrews heard representations from Rev Nicolson’s barrister, Helen Mountfield QC, who argued the costs were unlawful if the council sought to recover more than the actual cost of obtaining the order.
She further argued that although £125 may not seem like a huge amount, it was a significant sum to those who do not have a regular income.
Josephine Henderson, representing the council, defended the liability order, arguing that 20,000 are sought by the council each year, and that the practice of agreeing set fees was endorsed by the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Yesterday (Wednesday), High Court judge Mrs Justice Andrews handed down a judgement ruling that Haringey’s liability order had been unlawful.
But she stopped short of ruling that the costs themselves were unlawful, stating that only the order was unlawful, because Haringey Council had been unable to provide a breakdown of costs.
Rev Nicolson spent more than £1,000 in court fees and administration costs in order to bring the case, choosing to take the battle to the courts because, he said, the costs Haringey regularly seeks to recover from non-payers of council tax was hitting the poorest in society the hardest.
Mrs Justice Andrews ordered Haringey to pay the costs of Rev Nicolson, who said afterwards: “I think it’s game, set, and match to the Rev Paul. £125 is a penalty on the very poorest residents of Haringey and much wider.”
A Haringey Council spokesman said it accepted the court’s decision “as magistrates did not have the relevant information before them”.
He added: “We welcome that the judge accepted our broad approach to calculating costs to cover legal proceedings. We will now consider this ruling in greater detail.”