The Supreme Court has excoriated Labour-run Haringey Council for running a “misleading” consultation that falsely claimed cuts were being forced on it by the government, ignoring the other policy options open to the council.
As a press release from Haringey Liberal Democrats explains:
Labour-run Haringey Council’s controversial council tax consultation was slammed in a judgement issued by the Supreme Court…
Haringey Council’s policy was challenged by two single mums on council tax benefit on the basis the council did not consult local people properly. The Supreme Court found Haringey’s consultation with 36,000 residents on the local Council Tax Relief Scheme was unlawful.
The reason? In the consultation, Haringey Council claimed that reductions in their council tax benefits for some people was being forced on them by changes in government policy, but failed to point out that there were in fact alternative policies available to Haringey Council which would have avoided these reductions – and that therefore the cuts flowed from a decision by Haringey Council not to take alternative action.
As the judges said in their ruling:
In the consultation document there was no reference to options for meeting the shortfall other than by a reduction in relief from council tax, namely to the options of raising council tax or of reducing the funding of Haringey’s services or of applying its deployable reserves of capital (which amounted to £76.8m in March 2012).
These were not just theoretical options; the majority of other local councils used such alternatives to reduce or even completely remove the cuts in benefits. The judicial ruling also quoted the example of Birmingham Council’s consultation which set out the alternatives available, unlike Haringey’s.
Indeed Haringey Council so comprehensively buried its reasons for rejecting the alternative courses that in the ruling a judge said:
I speak as one who, even after a survey of the evidence filed by Haringey in these proceedings, remains unclear why it was minded to reject the other options. Perhaps the driver of its approach was political.