Today I continue my scan through some of the material at The Sparrows’ Nest Library’s archive of Poll Tax resistance ephemera.
The Forest Fields & Hyson Green Anti-Poll Tax Campaign put out a newsletter called Poll-Axe! It was among the regional anti-poll tax groups, and described itself this way in the newsletter’s inaugural issue:
Our policy, evolved by consensus of our active members, is to build a non-payment campaign, to urge non-implementation of the Poll-Tax, and to delay the registration process. However, we aim to embrace all forms of opposition to the Poll Tax and welcome new ideas and different views. We are a broad-based local campaign consisting of people of various political persuasions.
Their newsletter contains a lot of good details about the tactics they put into play to defeat the poll tax.
Another article in that first issue described a visit from a campaigner from Scotland who described the anti-poll tax campaign there. (The government rolled out the poll tax in Scotland one year before trying it elsewhere in Britain, so this allowed both sides of the conflict to refine tactics.) Excerpt:
Despite threats of imprisonment to non-payers, there has been no such evidence of this happening in Scotland.
People claiming benefits are wiser to simply not pay the Poll Tax as the fine is less than the payments themselves (the Government is only allowed to confiscate £1.75 a week from your benefit and that starts from when they catch up with you!). Whole estates in Scotland are simply refusing to pay and Poll Tax collectors and bailiffs have been chased away by angry residents. A million people have not paid their Poll Tax.
A later issue noted that the Forest Fields & Hyson Green group had decided to “twin” with their counterparts in the Prestonfields & District Anti-Poll Tax Group in Edinburgh in a sort of “sister cities” relationship.
Other articles described (somewhat vaguely) outreach to NALGO, the union representing the government desk employees who would be responsible for implementing the poll tax. The anti-poll tax campaigners hoped to drum up some resistance from within the bureaucracy.
Issue #2 gave this advice for people on delaying poll tax registration:
Registration: What to Do Next?
If you haven’t sent back your registration form yet, you will have had a letter from the council threatening you with a £50 fine. So what should you do now?
We advise you to ignore it. They [cannot fine you unless they prove that] you got their letters. They can only prove this
- if they were hand delivered to you personally, or
- if they were sent by recorded delivery, or
- if you tell them.
They will probably send a poll tax snooper to your house. Don’t tell the snooper — or anyone else from the council — that you have had poll tax forms. You must not admit that you’ve had anything from them about the poll tax, or they can fine you £50.
When the snooper calls, it’s best to pretend there’s nobody in. If this isn’t possible, get rid of them quickly. They’ll try to get you to fill in a form on the doorstep. Try not to do this. Tell them you’re about to go out, have a bath, feed the baby — any excuse will do. But you must take a form from them. Once you’ve done this you must reply within 21 days.
This isn’t the only option. We have a leaflet setting out other ways to delay registration — get one from our stall every Saturday at Hyson Green crossroads.
Most important of all, don’t sit at home worrying about it. If you’re worried about it — fill the form in and send it back.
Delaying registration is only a small part of our protest. The main thing will be to refuse payment when the first bills arrive next April.
If you need any advice, contact us.
A later article expanded on this advice: “they can’t force you to fill in a form there and then. You have to take a registration form from them, or you might be fined. They’ll probably try to arrange a time to collect it: Pick a time when you know that nobody will be at home.” That article also recommended:
- Tell your friends and neighbours that snoopers are in the area
- Follow them around — this will worry them, and might stop them harassing people on their own doorsteps
- Remember that the snoopers are nervous because they know they’re unpopular
The same article noted “we’ve heard that snoopers all over Nottingham are not bothering to knock on doors where an anti-poll tax poster is in the window. They say it isn’t worth the bother.” And they reiterated that non-registration was just a delaying tactic, and not worth fighting to the bitter end: “It’s not worth getting fined over refusing to register… Refusing to register is a criminal offense (unlike refusing to pay), and it won’t stop the poll tax because they’ll only get your name from one of their computers. Our aim is to make registration as difficult as we can without getting fined.”
An Edinburgh Evening News article reproduced in the second newsletter concerned the occupation of a sheriff office in Leith. Excerpts:
About 40 of them crammed into the sheriff officers premises in Constitution Street, locked the doors and singing [sic] anti-poll tax songs and staging a mock auction of equipment and furnishings.
Staff fled from the public counter.
One of the organisers, Bob Goupillot…, said the aim was to show people they need not be intimidated into paying the poll tax.
“If sheriff officers think they can threaten people by saying they are going to sell off their belongings, they will find we can retaliate by harassing them in a similar way,” he added.
Among the placard and banner-carrying demonstrators was university lecturer John Holloway… who said sheriff officers told him they were going to sell off his property after he refused to register for poll tax.
“They came to my door about eight weeks ago and carried out a poinding on my stereo,” he added.
“I went to my local anti-poll tax group and together with the Lothian Federation of Anti-Poll Tax Groups we warned them there would be massive resistance if they tried to carry out a warrant sale. I have heard nothing since.
“It is important we let the public know they should not be intimidated into paying this unjust tax, which redistributes money from the poor to the rich.”
One issue of the newsletter introduced a paperwork monkeywrenching campaign it called “Operation ‘Tell Sid’ ”:
We’re going to make the poll tax unworkable, and we’ve thought of some fun ways of doing it. Here’s the first:
To collect the poll tax, they need to know where we all live. If the register of people who should pay isn’t accurate, they’ve got problems. The more inaccurate it is, the more problems they’ve got. So…
We’ve obtained a lengthy list which members will be given, and is available at meetings and at our stall. On it are the names and personal details of some local people who will gain from the poll tax: judges, company directors, freemasons, and other undesirables.
Get a copy of the list and pick out a name. Then, next time you’ve got a spare ten minutes, write a letter pretending to be this person. Send it to Sidney Stares — he’s our Community Charge (poll tax) Registration Officer. Here’s what you should Tell Sid:
- The person’s name and current address
- Their date of birth
- That they are moving house
- Their new address: this can be an empty house, a non-existent address, or something vague like “abroad” or “London”
- The date they moved or are moving
Once you’ve sent a few letters like this one and got bored, you can start to play a slightly different game. Invent a name — or use somebody who’s famous: a real person, a character from your favourite soap — it doesn’t matter.
Be this person. Write and Tell Sid that you have just moved into the Nottingham area. Pick an address from the list, and Tell Sid that’s where you are living.
It’s as simple as that. By itself, this won’t stop the poll tax — but every little helps, so get writing now.
A report from the Scottish sister-city campaigners, in the issue, noted that enforcement threats there had thusfar proven empty:
There are two reasons why no warrant sales have taken place yet. First of all, there are only a handful of sheriff officers in Lothian but over 70,000 non-payers. Second, each time sheriff officers turn up at someone’s house (and they’ve only attempted it twice so far in the whole of Edinburgh), they are met by a crowd of angry anti-poll tax campaigners who stop them from getting in!
Lothian council are also trying to get poll tax from people by taking it straight from their bank accounts. They don’t need the person’s permission to do this, but there are some rules. The account has to be in credit, they aren’t allowed to make anyone overdrawn, and they can only seize any money that’s in the account on the day they freeze it.
Officially, bank staff have to co-operate with this system — it’s the law. Unofficially, they’re helping people to avoid payment by letting them run their accounts on a permanent overdraft, without making any charges. Non-payers are being given help by their banks to juggle money from one account to another. If the council applies to freeze the account of someone who hasn’t plaid their poll tax, then on any one day it will only have a few pounds in it at most — and that’s all they can take. And in many cases, people have had phone calls from their bank managers, telling them that an arrestment order has arrived and suggesting that they come in for a chat to sort something out!
The issue reported that enforcement was proving just as difficult outside of Scotland:
Attempts to recover poll tax debts have failed. In eighteen months not one warrant sale — the Scottish equivalent of bailiffs — has been carried out.
In South Wales, residents have blockaded whole villages to keep the bailiffs out. In Northampton, their office was fire-bombed only three days after their first failed attempt to seize poll tax arrears.
Closer to home, the bailiffs sent in by Rushcliffe Council in West Bridgford failed to recover any poll tax at all, and the council have now written asking non-payers to “make them an offer…[”]!
In Beeston, Broxtowe Council served bailiffs notices on people — but when the bailiffs returned they failed to get into anyone’s house. They picked a day when we had two sets of court hearings to cover — one of them 20 miles away in Bingham. Yet we still managed to mount a watch outside the bailiffs headquarters on Hucknall Road. When the bailiffs left there at 9.15 a.m. messages went out all over the city, and a Scumbusters squad was out on the streets of Beeston within minutes. We followed them for a few hours — they were ducking in and out of car parks and estates trying to “lose” us — then they ran home with their tails between their legs.
This comes from an “Special Issue”. By this time, the government had decided to give up on the poll tax, but it was still in effect at a reduced rate until they figured out a replacement. This on the one hand was a tremendous victory, but on the other took some of the wind out of the sails of the opposition, which worried that if it declared victory and slacked off on refusal the government might sneak the poll tax back under a new name and would continue to try to take reprisals against determined resisters:
and how to beat them!
The first thing to remember about bailiffs is that they aren’t likely to visit you. There are only a handful of them, and 60,000 of us — so the chances of them coming to your door are pretty slim.
The second thing to remember is that if you follow these simple rules, they can’t touch you:
- Never let them into your house
- Keep ground floor doors and windows locked
- Phone us as soon as you hear from them
Bailiffs are just like vampires: invite them in once and they can come back at any time, using force if they have to. But if you never let them get past your front door, they can’t ever touch you!
The council are also using Recovery Officers to try and get us to pay the poll tax. These do the same job as bailiffs, but don’t have the same powers. If someone comes to your door, it’s more likely to be a Recovery Officer than a bailiff — but you can only find out by talking to them, which isn’t a good idea because they try and trick people. The best thing to do is politely tell them that you’re busy and close the door in their face. Then phone us as soon as you can.
If you have a room in a shared house, make sure that other people living there know to keep the front door locked. If the bailiffs get past the front door, they are allowed to smash down other doors to help them carry out their dirty work. Put a notice on the inside of the front door, to remind the other people you share with.
Sometimes, they push a letter through your door threatening to come back in a week or so and steal your things. It’s almost always just a bluff, and they go away and annoy someone else instead. But sometimes they leave a date and time that they’ll be coming back. If you get a letter like this, let us know. Tell us when they’re coming, and we’ll arrange a street party to welcome them. They’ll be sorry they ever showed their faces.
A later newsletter added these details:
Bailiffs cannot break into our homes or use the police to get into our property. They can enter our property if a door is unlocked or if one of our windows is open. If you live in a property which has an outer door and one or more inner doors you must insure that the outer door is locked at all times. If this outer door is unlocked the bailiffs can use force to open the second, inner door.
Bailiffs may try and persuade us to let them in by saying they just want to talk and that they don’t intend taking anything. We shouldn’t be fooled by this — once in they can value our things and then come back another time and legally take them by force. So we have to be on our guard at all times with the best advice being: Don’t let them in! Another thing we could get into the habit of doing is closing our curtains when we go out. This will prevent the bailiffs looking through our windows to value our things.
A page in the issue highlighted the work of the Trafalgar Square Defendants’ Campaign, and encouraged readers to support imprisoned resisters by writing letters to them (it gave a list of several prisoners along with their mailing addresses), visiting them, and helping to fund their prison canteen accounts.