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Removal of the sanction of imprisonment as an enforcement method for council tax arrears in Wales

Mack, Jennie 2023. Removal of the sanction of imprisonment as an enforcement method for council tax arrears in Wales. PhD Thesis, Cardiff School of Law and Politics.
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Council tax is a well-established household expense and a fundamental component of local authority revenue, used to fund local services. The majority of households are able to pay their bill, but when individuals fall into arrears, the local authority steps into the role of creditor and must act to enforce payment. This thesis explores the legal framework of council tax enforcement following the removal of the sanction of imprisonment in Wales from 2019. Existing research is challenged for its privileging of quantitative data, lack of methodological reflexivity and bias in favour of certain agendas. It considers how imprisonment was defined in law, the impact this had on the rights and procedural protections of debtors, how the sanction was justified and what factors influenced its use. Building on this understanding, it moves on to question why the sanction was removed in Wales and what the early impacts of its removal have been on council tax enforcement. Novel evidence was generated through qualitative analysis of case law, responses to a public consultation and semi-structured interviews with local authority staff in Wales. The concept of the ‘punitive civil sanction’ is applied to council tax enforcement to demonstrate the hybrid nature of imprisonment as a sanction and the impact on debtors. The decisions of local authority enforcement staff are examined with reference to the ‘street-level bureaucracy’ concept, identifying the emotional responses and entrenched mechanisms which informed their use of imprisonment and attitudes to indebtedness. Drawing on these three sources of socio-legal data and utilising this dual conceptual framework, this thesis argues that the removal of imprisonment from the legal framework of council tax enforcement was undoubtedly positive. However, caution is recommended in future reforms, such as the introduction of new enforcement powers or the extension of current powers, lest we re-introduce a punitive sanction in an alternative form, continuing the problematic hybrid of criminal and civil law. It advocates for a methodological paradigm shift in the future of debt enforcement research, and greater appreciation of the impact of austerity on every facet of the council tax enforcement system.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Law
Uncontrolled Keywords: council tax, debt enforcement, imprisonment for debt, street-level bureaucracy, punitive civil sanction
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 16 May 2023
Last Modified: 16 May 2023 14:33

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