Environmental activist Imogen May had a second liability order for non-payment of council tax made against her when she appeared before Exeter magistrates last Thursday.
The lone parent of two from Crediton began withholding her council tax payments to Mid Devon District Council in April 2019 in protest over government investment in fossil fuel industries and what she called “vanity projects like HS2”.
She now owes nearly £2,500 but said she is “more than comfortable” with the consequences of her actions, despite the risk of prison. She said: “If it happens, then I will be prepared to do that.”
She said she has never denied liability for council tax but that she believes tax revenues should stay in the community, where local councillors and citizens’ assemblies can best decide how they are spent. That way, she said: “We can build resilient sustainable communities with a sense of ownership and responsibility.”
She has used the withheld tax to create what she described as a “nature therapy space” for teenagers in her garden. Children from her local secondary school are due to visit to look at the garden with a view to using it tomorrow.
She said: “My whole point is the environment and my time and money goes into developing the space. If we don’t connect our kids to the natural world so they have an understanding of it then we don’t have anything.”
Miss May previously had a council tax liability order made against her by Exeter magistrates in June 2019.
At the time she said: “When April came around and a bill arrived I just decided ‘no’. I am a single parent, I don’t have £100 a month to throw away on the things not necessary to change the future.
“We are facing a sixth mass extinction and we need to act now. I believe I have a moral obligation as a parent to do just that. We need to raise awareness. We need to act.”
She refused to comply with the order, prompting enforcement action by Mid Devon District Council.
She said: “I’ve had maybe five different bailiffs trying to extract this money from me, but I’m not frightened of that.”
If such enforcement action fails, councils in England can apply to magistrates for a committal to prison for up to three months.
Around twenty members of environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion gathered in support of Miss May outside Exeter Law Courts before last week’s hearing. They displayed banners saying “Climate Justice Now” and “Government Must Act on the Truth”.
It will involve 100 activists who have pledged to withhold 3% of their income, business and/or council taxes until the UK government takes decisive steps to combat the climate and ecological emergency.
This proportion represents the amount of government spending that Extinction Rebellion says “causes ecocide”. The figure has been calculated from the combined costs of the government’s £27 billion road-building programme and its investments in domestic and overseas fossil fuel industries and the controversial HS2 rail project.
As part of their pledge, the Earth Tax Strike protestors have signed an open letter to HMRC outlining the reasons for their action.
Tax resistance as a form of protest goes back centuries and has played a role in numerous political movements including the Peasants’ Revolt, the American Revolution and the women’s suffrage movement.
Extinction Rebellion’s Claire Richards, who took part in last week’s demonstration in Exeter, said that although Imogen May’s protest is not part of the Earth Tax Strike she has become a key figure in the Money Rebellion movement because of her stance.
She said: “Imogen did her own thing off her own back really early on. So when the government and the local councils originally declared a climate emergency she decided there and then she would stop paying her council tax, because if you declare an emergency then every decision from then on should be aligned with that and clearly they are not.”
Miss May represented herself at the hearing, which was postponed from last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s not clear what Mid Devon District Council’s next steps will be, but says she would welcome an escalation and is keen to find out what happens next.
She said: “I want to invite them [the council] to explain why they’ve been ignoring this situation, but I expect they just don’t know what to do with me.”