How blind man took on the council – and won £66,000 in costs

CROYDON COMMENTARY: It has long been established that the council is far from infallible. It nonetheless takes a great amount of courage to launch a High Court challenge against the authority, with its deep pockets and well-paid lawyers.
YUSUF OSMAN, pictured right, tells how he did just that, and won

Let’s begin at the end – after all, I’m sure you are all desperate to read the result of how I undertook a Judicial Review against Croydon Council over their treatment of me, and others, who had previously been exempt from paying Council Tax because we are unable to work full-time.

Ivory tower: council lawyers in Fisher’s Folly ‘surrendered’ the case against Dr Osman, and paid his £66,000 costs

After a year of fighting Croydon Council, we have reached an out-of-court settlement. The details are that the council has agreed to pay my costs, amounting to £66,000, and damages of £500.

I had always previously been exempt from paying Council Tax, but last year faced a bill of hundreds of pounds when the council changed its Council Tax Reduction scheme. My claim said that the changes to the CTR in 2022 were discriminatory to me as a blind self-employed person who was not able to earn the Minimum Income Floor, or MIF, of £332.50 per week.

The judge in the case, Mr Justice Mostyn, said that Croydon Council had basically “surrendered”, in that it no longer subjected disabled self-employed people to the MIF. He said I should be credited with that, because of the legal case I had brought against the council.

How did I get here?

In November 2021, the council undertook a consultation on proposed changes to its Council Tax Reduction scheme. I emailed to seek clarification. I was told that people like me – in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or registered blind – would continue to be fully exempt. I was satisfied with that response.

Yet in March 2022, while discussing my Housing Benefit claim with the council I discovered that I was now liable for Council Tax. I realised that due to the Minimum Income Floor for self-employed people and the removal of ESA from the list of disregards, I was going to have to pay something towards Council Tax because my income was artificially inflated.

In April last year, Croydon’s residents were being wooed by potential mayors. I took the opportunity of the hustings event at the BME Forum to ask the candidates what they would do about the Council Tax Reduction Scheme and its negative impact on disabled residents. Jason Perry admitted in his answer that he wasn’t aware of the issue I raised and said that he would look into it. If Perry really did ever look into my concerns on becoming Mayor, he did nothing about the issue.

Pen-pushers: the council’s initial solution was to tell disabled people to fill in more forms

I initiated a complaint to the council which escalated to Stage 2.

I was informed that the council recognised that there was an issue that might be looked at for next year. In the meantime, it was suggested that I apply to the discretionary fund. I did this and my Council Tax Support was increased and the money that I had already paid was refunded.

I told the council that a solution based on a discretionary fund application was not acceptable, because it required people to fill out an additional form and this would be hard for many vulnerable residents.

I took legal advice. An application for Judicial Review was submitted in early July where I was represented by Kate Egerton of solicitors Leigh Day. The next few months were spent in discussions between my legal team and the council.

It came as a great shock when the council’s defence changed from one of recognition that a problem existed to one of the problem being that everyone misunderstood the regulations and a correct reading of them meant there was no Council Tax due. This was reflected in a new Council Tax letter from late July.

That is where we remained until this week and due to what happened at the Royal Courts of Justice, that is where we remain now.

The council still refuses to admit that it did anything wrong. It continues to fail to acknowledge that it has not imported the MIF into its Council Tax Reduction scheme in line with the Universal Credit regulations, and that it hasn’t continued to disregard disability-related income.

Had it accepted that mistakes had been made, a settlement could have been reached long before now.

As a result the council and, by extension, Croydon’s residents, will now have to pay £66,500.00 in costs and damages. That does not take into account the council’s own legal costs incurred over the past nine months.

It is no wonder that the council is subject to yet another Section 114 notice given that they spend money fighting legal challenges that do not have to be fought, and all as a result of poorly designed schemes due to discriminatory clauses, incompetent drafting or implementation. Although the council have still not admitted any fault, the end of this story proves that there was fault. I take comfort in Mr Justice Mostyn’s words in court.

My fight over the past year has had a positive impact: 58 other people have had their Council Tax decisions changed and, most importantly, the council did change the scheme for disabled self-employed people like me.

Without my fantastic legal team, this victory would not have been possible. The fight is not done, however. I’ve gone as far as I can and it is time for someone else to carry on the fight.

Recommended: solicitor Kate Egerton

I am convinced that Croydon’s current Council Tax Reduction scheme remains illegal for other residents whose ability to work is limited by, for example, caring responsibilities, and as a result many vulnerable residents are suffering. More broadly there are other councils doing similar things to Croydon and we must fight there, too.

Local and national governments cannot be allowed to treat any citizen in the way that Croydon has treated me over the last year. But they will continue to do so if we don’t fight them.

If you are someone who cares for people with disabilities or children under three years old, or you are a pensioner with a working-age partner, a recent adopter, a student or a foster parent and have had your Council Tax Support reduced, I recommend the work of Kate Egerton and Leigh Day.

  • Yusuf Osman lives in Waddon and works as a self-employed access consultant, advising museums, theatres and the owners of other public buildings on how best to support blind and visually-impaired visitors

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2 Responses to How blind man took on the council – and won £66,000 in costs

  1. In the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Jude the Apostle is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes.

    In local government, it’s the London Borough of Croydon.

  2. derekthrower says:

    Does Croydon Council ever undertake an audit of it’s Legal Services costs?
    Does part time Perry ever take any notice of questions that does not suit his agenda?
    If these questions were answered this Local Authority may identify savings to it’s budget, which could at least start returning it to solvency.

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