Supreme Court To Hear Landmark Public Consultation Case

Lawyers Say Hearing Shows Importance Of Local Engagement As Cuts To Public Services Continue


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

The Supreme Court will hear a landmark case considering local authorities’ obligations when carrying out public consultations for what is believed to be the first time ever today (19 June) in a hearing which lawyers say is crucial at a time when so many local services are being cut.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell is representing a resident challenging the consultation by Haringey Council as they implemented the new Council Tax rebate system last April which forced many residents to pay council tax for the first time.

The law firm, representing a single mother struggling with the new payments, says the consultation was unlawful and didn’t provide enough information for people to make an informed decision about the changes.

Last year the Government abolished the Council Tax Benefit system in favour or a local rebate scheme implemented by each council separately but with reduced funding. This left a shortfall which Haringey Council decided to meet by requiring all residents who previously paid nothing, except disabled people and the elderly, to pay approximately 20% of their council tax.

At the time of the original legal challenge to the changes in Haringey, expert lawyers at Irwin Mitchell said the ‘poorest were being hit hardest’ and that the council tax changes across the country were a post code lottery which would see many vulnerable residents forced to pay council tax for the first time.

Following a Court of Appeal hearing in February last year, which ruled in the Council’s favour, Irwin Mitchell applied to the Supreme Court on behalf of residents of Haringey who believed the consultation was unfair.

Although the decision can no longer be quashed as the new system has already been implemented, local residents hope that they may still be able to influence the future of the rebate system, and have asked the Court to order that Haringey redo the consultation again should they declare that the first consultation was unlawful.

Citizens Advice said last month that in the first three months of 2014 the charity helped 27,000 people who had fallen behind with council tax bills, a 17% increase on the same period of 2013. They also revealed that more than 90,000 people came to Citizens Advice looking for help with council tax arrears last year.

Alex Rook, a specialist health and welfare lawyer at Irwin Mitchell leading the case, said: “Last year we warned that the council tax changes were going to hurt vulnerable residents who simply could not afford to pay under the new rules. Now just last month Citizens Advice revealed that they now receive more calls about council tax arrears than any other form of debt.

“Public consultation is extremely important to ensure there is proper local engagement and to make sure that people affected by decisions understand the background and can share their opinions to help shape local policies. We hope this case will provide clarity on the extent to which local authorities must consult with the public when introducing new policies such as this.

“This is understood to be the first time the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case about a council’s duty to undertake ‘public consultation.’ The importance of this issue should not be underestimated at the present time when local services are being cut back across the country.”

Judgment is likely to be reserved.