Matthew Hill of Harrogate solicitors, Raworths, has advised in an important case involving a borough council chasing an 80 year old dementia patient for unpaid council tax amounting to less than £2,000. The case, which has been widely reported in the national press, began when 80 year old Trevor Evans failed to pay council tax of £1,909 to Gedling Borough Council in Nottinghamshire and was made bankrupt by the council as a result in 2004.The court has now ordered that the bankruptcy order be annulled and that the council picks up the costs.
Gedling Borough Council spent around £50,000 on its own legal costs fighting to keep the bankruptcy order in place despite the fact that Mr Evans was mentally ill. The ruling means Gedling Borough Council also now has to pay the trustee in bankruptcy’s costs of around £70,000 and Mr Evans’s legal costs, estimated at a further £80,000.Those figures take the total council spend to an astonishing £200,000 – more than a hundred times what Mr Evans owed in council tax.
The court found that the Nottinghamshire local authority wrongly ignored the fact that Mr Evans was schizophrenic and has dementia in chasing him over the debt. District Judge Jane George ruled the authority did not show compassion towards Mr Evans in pursuing the ‘disproportionate’ legal action. District Judge Jane George said in her ruling that Alistair Townsend, the council’s tax manager, had ‘demonstrated a lack of understanding’ when he said in a statement that there was ‘no indication that Mr Evans was suffering from a mental illness’ and he was ‘under no duty to make detailed inquiries about Mr Evans’ health’.
Matthew Hill of Raworths who acted for Mr Evans, said: ‘The council’s decision to make Mr Evans bankrupt, for such a relatively small sum of money, and to carry on with this case for so many years demonstrates a worrying attitude towards vulnerable individuals. Mr Evans was lucky that help found him. However, I am sure that there are many other at-risk people who just slip through the net. This case should act as a stark warning to others, including other local authorities, who might seek to make people bankrupt. Get it wrong and you could face a very large bill at the end of it’