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Reverend Paul Nicholson challenges Haringey Council’s ‘unfair’ costs in court

13:41 01 May 2015

Rev Paul Nicholson and supporters outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Rev Paul Nicholson and supporters outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Archant

A retired vicar has mounted a legal challenge against charges imposed on those in Haringey who fail to pay their council tax.

Rev Paul Nicholson, who lives in Campbell Road, Tottenham, refused to pay his council tax in protest over the hundred per cent council tax 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 Nicholson asked magistrates to provide a breakdown illustrating how it had cost Haringey Council £125 to obtain a liability order, claiming that the council was seeking to obtain more than the actual costs to act as a deterrent against non-payment.

Yesterday, High Court judge Mrs Justice Andrews heard representations from Rev Nicholson’s barrister, Helen Mountfield QC, who argued the costs were unlawful if they sought to recover more money than it cost to actually obtain 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 Haringey Council, defended the liability order, arguing that 20,000 are sought by the council each year, and that the practice of agreeing set fees had been endorsed by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

Justice Andrews is expected to hand down her judgement early next week, a ruling which could have huge implications for local authorities across the country.

Rev Nicholson has spent more than £1,000 of his own money 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.

He said many people affected would be likely to be in rent arrears and have other burdens on their limited finances.

Speaking after the hearing, he said; “I brought this case because there are around three million people being handed liability orders by the magistrates every year in England and Wales.

“Now my worst fears have been confirmed – they have no control over the costs they award in each case.

“It’s a penalty against people who can’t afford to pay council tax in the first place.”

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