‘Man of God’ describes motivation for fighting Haringey Council tax charges

Rev Paul Nicolson outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Photo: Polly Hancock

Rev Paul Nicolson outside the Royal Courts of Justice. Photo: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A campaigning churchman lost his latest court battle against Haringey council tax charges, but says he will take his fight further in the name of the poorest people in the borough.

Retired Reverend Paul Nicolson, 83, represented himself against two barristers from Grant Thornton, Haringey Council’s auditors, in his appeal at the Royal Courts of Justice last week.

He claims court costs for people who fail to pay council tax have been too expensive for years.

But Lord Justice Hamblen ruled the Haringey Council charges were not unlawful in 2013/2014.

Rev Nicolson started planning how to launch his appeal against the judge’s decision mere days after the case.

Steady, single-minded and determined, Rev Nicolson has been campaigning on unfair tax, especially for those who live on benefits and the bread-line, since the 1990s.

“The motivation stems from working with and for people struggling in the benefits system and seeing the sheer misery that rent and council tax arrears can bring to both individuals and families,” he said.

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“We have a clear priority in Christianity in loving everybody, but in loving the very poor first.”

“‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ - it’s a demanding commandment and it’s at the very heart of all faiths.

“There’s the big challenge of trying to translate it into legislation.”

As well as battling tax in the courts, Rev Nicolson is backing an amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, which is currently making its way through the House of Lords before it can be passed as law.

Baroness Molly Meacher is asking for a report to be put before Parliament each year about the health and wellbeing impact on families who are unable to pay their rent and fall into arrears.

She references Rev Nicolson’s work in drawing attention to the effects of housing benefits cuts, at the same time as benefit incomes are frozen by the government and people still have to pay council tax.

“People are not only in debt - they’re hungry”, Rev Nicolson said. “The foodbanks hear these stories.”

“It’s an Alice in Wonderland world where government provides benefits to ensure survival and shelter and local authorities tax the already inadequate income”.

Rev Nicolson started campaigning against poll tax in 1990 and retired from his parish work in 1999.

But in spite of his fervent activism, the reverend has never been a political party member.

“I’m political with and for the people I work with,” he said.

Rev Nicolson said he “did not regret taking this case” immediately after losing the appeal last week.

“It had to be challenged in the interests of the 58 per cent of people in Haringey who are renters,” he said.

The ‘battle for justice’

- October 29 2014: The Supreme Court ruled that Haringey Council’s consultation on its proposed council tax scheme misleadingly implied it had no alternative but to pass on budget cuts to poor residents. The case was heard after Rev Nicolson supported two single mothers to challenge the consultation through the courts.

- May 6 2015: Rev Nicolson took Haringey Council to the High Court when they charged him £125 to appear in court after he refused to pay his council tax. The charge was found to be unlawful as the magistrates did not have sufficient information to decide whether the costs claimed represented the costs reasonable incurred by the council.

As a result of Rev Nicolson’s successful challenge, Haringey Council reduced their charges.

February 25 2016: Rev Nicolson claimed residents had been forced to pay a blanket charge for court costs, whether or not they paid their council tax in full once they received a court summons and did not have to appear in court. But it was decided it was “factually incorrect” that Haringey Council charged everyone for court hearings in 2013/14.