Mark Drakeford, Cabinet Secretary for Finance
Today, I publish the summary of responses to our consultation on the removal of the sanction of imprisonment for the non-payment of council tax. I am also announcing my intention to bring forward the legislation to ensure that, from 1 April 2019, it will no longer be possible to start proceedings to commit an individual to prison for council tax debt.
The payment of council tax is vital to maintaining the local services which we all rely upon every day. However, it is also right that those who are less able to contribute are treated fairly and with dignity. The sanction of imprisonment is an outdated and disproportionate response to a civil debt issue.
The additional costs associated with the committal process and with imprisoning someone for non-payment of council tax; the failure of imprisonment to address the underlying causes of the debt and the impact on the future and wellbeing of those who are sent to prison and those closest to them can no longer be left unchallenged. The sanction of imprisonment was introduced as a mechanism for compelling the payment of council tax rather than for punishing non-payment.
The Welsh Government’s consultation received 188 responses from a wide range of stakeholders. A substantial majority responded in favour of our proposals.
In response to the consultation, local authorities asked for additional measures to help them to maintain collection rates. We are committed to working with local authorities to monitor the implementation of the change to the legislation and will consider the introduction of new measures if necessary. However, as a first step, I know that local authorities will want to examine their approaches to the collection of council tax and share good practice. There is little evidence of a relationship between the use of the committal process and collection rates while there is growing evidence that collection levels and arrears are best managed through early engagement with citizens.
My ambition is that removing the sanction of imprisonment, and the threat of it, for the non-payment of council tax will help to promote earlier engagement between citizens and local authorities when issues arise, and encourage a more constructive dialogue.
The Welsh Government is committed to working with local authorities to make council tax fairer in Wales. Today’s announcement marks an important milestone in these efforts.
The summary of consultation responses is available at: