Talking Point - Council Tax Evasion
PUBLISHED: 17:40 29 March 2011 | UPDATED: 19:06 20 February 2013
Sophie Atherton looks at a Taunton court case of council tax evasion and asks: "Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul?"
Sophie Atherton looks at a Taunton court case of council tax evasion and asks: Are we robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Do you ever wish you didnt have to pay council tax? Im sure weve all felt a bit aggrieved at times, when paying the taxman in his various guises, but we know we must and recognise what we get in return and no ones a fan of tax dodgers are they? Theyre as bad as bankers getting huge bonuses, while ordinary people are lucky if they hold onto their jobs. West Somerset Council doesnt take kindly to tax dodging either. It has taken 38-year-old Martin Barnfield, of The Avenue, Minehead, to court for withholding more than 6,000 of council tax incurred over the last six years. Despite his claim that he was self-employed and in and out of work at the time, Taunton magistrates found him guilty and agreed with the council that he should receive the maximum penalty of 90 days in prison.
Councillor Kate Kravis, Lead Member for Finance, says: We have a duty to try and claim back as much of the council tax that is owed from the residents of West Somerset as we can
Councillor Kate Kravis, Lead Member for Finance says: We have a duty to try and claim back as much of the council tax that is owed from the residents of West Somerset as we can. If somebody doesnt pay their council tax, effectively that burden is then falling on everybody else.
The trouble is though, its going to cost the taxpayer more than 10,000 to keep Barnfield in prison for 90 days, which seems a little like robbing Peter to pay Paul. I asked Councillor Kravis what she thought about this.
Good point. I cant comment individually on this mans case but if were seen not to enforce non-payment then we could easily incur more people not paying, so I suppose theres a little bit of setting an example, she told me.
I couldnt help thinking that community service would have been a better punishment. At least then we could reclaim some of what Barnfield has effectively stolen from his West Somerset neighbours, but when I spoke to Tony Dowling, Regional Organiser for the GMB Trade Union, he had a different view.
It is right and proper that any council tries to retrieve any money owed to it through taxes in order to reduce any deficits within that council because these deficits are costing GMB members their jobs, he said.
But isnt there a risk to other jobs, given the amount needed to keep him in jail?
Clearly theyll be coming out of different pots of money. This is one of the idiosyncrasies of trying to make cuts, in the timescales the coalition government is trying to do. My concern is the people who are paying their taxes but are facing redundancy, not just because some people dont pay, but because of the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review and local authority cuts.
Tony thinks it must have been a last resort for the council to prosecute, but supports anything that might save jobs and reduce the number of job losses across the county. It makes you wonder though, if people end up out of work on the huge scale it seems they are going to and pay less council tax as a result, how are Somersets councils going to manage?