Community service should replace the sanction of imprisonment for non-payment of council tax, according to the Civil Enforcement Association (CIVEA).
The proposal is in response to a consultation by the financial secretary to the Welsh Assembly, Mark Drakeford AM, which calls for a ban on imprisonment for anyone who does not pay their council tax.
CIVEA, which represents firms employing enforcement agents, has met with officials in the Welsh government to make a case for retaining a fair and proportionate sanction in the form of community service. Some debt groups are calling for the proposals to be extended to England.
So far, Drakeford has declined to support the proposal, opting instead for a policy that has no coercive measures to ensure persistent offenders do not abuse the tax system.
Based on commercial data from enforcement firms operating in Wales, in 2016/17 there were an estimated 341 arrest warrants issued by local authorities with 20 people imprisoned. The value in outstanding debt against the arrest warrants was £586,774.
According to CIVEA, the loss of revenue to Welsh local authorities would far exceed this figure if the government imposed a ban on imprisonment without putting in place alternative sanctions.
Russell Hamblin-Boone, chief executive of CIVEA, said: “A non-custodial sentence would reduce the burden on the public purse and act as a deterrent to others who refuse to pay their council tax. Anyone given a community service sentence would be penalised for not paying their council tax, while at the same time making an alternative contribution to their local community. This would apply to a small but hard core who willingly refuse to pay their tax. We do not envisage that this sanction would apply to those identified as vulnerable and with no means to meet their debts”.