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Viral campaign sees council tax prisoner freed from jail

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Carla Buckle, aged 52 of Cherry Close, Newbury, was sentenced to eight weeks in prison when she appeared before Reading magistrates court on November 18, after failing to pay more than £3,000 in council tax to West Berkshire Council, who brought forward the case for prosecution.
She was released from Sodexo-run Bronzefield women’s prison on Monday after more than £1,500 was donated to the cause, enough to pay the remainder of the bill.
Speaking to the Newbury Weekly News on Tuesday, the man leading the campaign, who didn’t want to be named, said: “She was over the moon, absolutely overwhelmed with all the support and the work that has been going on behind the scenes to get her released. She was quite unaware of it.
“She’s back home now. She’s going to have a lovely Christmas with her family.”
It was only the second time that the district council had been granted a custodial sentence for the non-payment of council tax.
Speaking at the time of the conviction, Alan Law (Con, Basildon) said: “We are all obliged to pay council tax to cover the cost of numerous essential services and it is totally unfair for some people to think that this shared responsibility does not apply to them.
“I hope that this sentence gives a clear message that expecting others to pay will not be tolerated.”
However, what followed was a viral campaign to free the Newbury grandmother, on the grounds that she was on a low income and devoted her time to caring for others in her community.
The campaign leader said: “She’s not a criminal… she’s a civil prisoner.
“She’s on a zero-hours contract, she’s a carer. She gets £7 an hour… What we had here was somebody who didn’t have the means to pay.”
“There’s already a lot of pressure on the Government. I would say this could be the last case in terms of people getting jailed for owing council tax.”
Several online petitions for her release were published, one of which racked-up 1,671 signatures, while others tweeted the national and local press, politicians and even the Prime Minister David Cameron in a bid to publicise the campaign and to get people to donate to the fund.
When asked earlier this week if raising the funds to cover the rest of the bill would free Ms Buckle, West Berkshire Council spokesman, Keith Ulyatt, said: “It would be entirely up to the prison service and the courts as to when a person is released from prison.
“We do not have authority over that, we simply brought the case to try to retrieve the money. The court decided the sentence.”
Both West Berkshire Council and Sodexo said they could not comment any further on individual cases, while a spokeswoman for the Department for Communities and Local Government, who asked not to be named, would only say: “Every penny of council tax that is not collected means a higher council tax for the law-abiding citizen who does pay on time.
“However, it is important that councils are sympathetic to those in genuine hardship, are proportionate in enforcement and do not overuse bailiffs.
“The Government has worked hard to keep council tax down, and since 2010 the average bills in England have fallen by 11 per cent in real terms.
“We have recently announced extra funding for councils to help freeze council tax for a fifth successive year.”
When she went to prison, Ms Buckle owed some £3,500 in council tax, which was reduced by £60 each day she was in prison.
Conditions placed by the High Court require Ms Buckle to enter into discussions with the council in the early New Year to make her financial position known.

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