john-hall-busker
John Hall: home is at risk. Photograph: Richard McDougall

A York busker plans to use the Magna Carta in a last-ditch attempt to prevent the council from evicting him.

John Hall has lived in Sirocco Court, off Fossway, for more than four years. Now he faces homelessness. City of York Council could repossess the property on Thursday (February 19) over claims of unpaid rent and council tax.

But John says he has paid his rent – via promissory notes.

Housing benefit withdrawn

John is often seen playing his guitar in Skeldergate or on Leeman Road. In August he informed the council that he was making some money from his busking.

The council, John said, then stopped his housing benefit. His busking earnings were not enough to cover his rent so he began to pay with promissory notes.

A promissory note is a legally recognised financial document, containing an unconditional promise by the maker to pay a definite sum of money to a payee on demand or at a future date.

John has delivered weekly promissory notes for his rent to the council by fax and by hand.

“They ignored all the promissory notes, didn’t acknowledge them and claimed to have lost them,” he said.

Under the Bills of Exchange Act 1882, he argues, “if someone doesn’t accept your method of payment without good reason then the debt is offset”.

John also says he never received a “proper bill” with a remittance slip on the bottom. He claims the same 1882 Act states that if a creditor does not send a bill the liability is void.

County Court judgement

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A legal hearing was held here in January

The council applied to York County Court for a repossession order due to unpaid rent.

John did not turn up for the hearing before District Judge Wildsmith on January 22, but his friend Geoff Beacon put his case.

YorkMix attended the hearing. Here is one of the key exchanges:

Geoff Beacon: “He says he’s paid by promissory notes.”

Judge Wildsmith: “I’d rather have coins of the realm, frankly.”

GB: “I think it’s bizarre but possibly, legally, he’s right. That’s what he claims.”

Judge: “I’m sorry, that’s a load of rubbish. You pay your debt. If you make a promissory note the idea is you have to pay. But he just hasn’t paid it.”

The judge did not grant the council an immediate repossession order but gave John until February 18 to pay his rent arrears plus court costs.

If he doesn’t the council can issue a warrant to repossess the property on Thursday, February 19.

Another court case

John says the council has taken action against him over another bill, council tax, without his knowledge.

Under new legislation, from April 2013 he was liable for ten per cent of his council tax. In September that year he began issuing promissory notes for the amount due, and says under this method he has ‘paid’ up to April 2015.

In January 2014, the council started legal proceedings against him for unpaid council tax. But John says he was never informed, and only found out last December when court staff informed him.

He believes he was deliberately kept in the dark because, as a secure tenant, the council must give him 12 months’ notice to leave.

Turns to the Magna Carta

magna-carta
A1297 copy of Magna Carta, owned by the Australian Government. Photograph © Marcus Wong on Wikimedia Commons
John is fighting the eviction on two grounds:

  • that he has no liability for the rent, because a proper bill was never issued and his promissory notes have not been accepted; and
  • that the council has failed to follow due process of law by seeking a possession order “in secret’.

If that fails he will use an ancient common law route: “lawful rebellion”.

He says this falls under Article 61 of the Magna Carta, the medieval treaty which is celebrating its 800th birthday this year, and is said to enshrine some of our key liberties.

He will appeal to the Queen’s Bench, in an attempt to prove the council is “planning to do him harm” by taking his home.

“I have been on this for six months. It’s extremely stressful,” John said. He added:

I’m anti the ‘new world order’. I wouldn’t risk my home for anything less important.

There were 33 people evicted last year because they couldn’t pay their rent. All those people have now ended up on the street.

If I can succeed, I can help every poor person in England and Wales.

John, who was born in Keighley but came to York as a child and attended Scarcroft School, has lived back in the city for ten years.

Prior to the Salvation Army securing his Sirocco Court home he had lived in a tent and in the Arc Light centre for homeless men.

‘Explore other avenues’

A City of York Council spokesperson said the authority was unable to comment on individual cases. But she added:

However, if a tenant does not pay their rent then officers work with the tenants to explore all the options available to resolve the issue.

If payment is still not forthcoming we have an obligation to ensure that income is recovered. Ultimately we will apply the sanction of eviction, but only after all other avenues have been explored.

Update: Sunday Feb 22

After this post went live, John sent two additional pieces of information. The first is case law regarding promissory notes:

A Lord Denning judgement that says a bill of exchange once tendered has to be treated as cash…

The principle is that a bill, cheque or note is given and taken in payment as so much cash, and not as merely given a right of action for the creditor to litigate a counter claim (see Jackson v Murphy [1887] 4 T.L.R. 92).

“We have repeatedly said in this court that a bill of exchange or a promissory note is to be treated as cash. It is to be honoured unless there is some good reason to the contrary”

– Lord Denning, Fielding & Platt Ltd v Selim Najjar [1969]

John also claims that the council is guilty of “misfeasance in public office” over their rent claim because “as there is no liability there can be no debt”.

This is his definition of misfeasance:

A term used in Tort Law to describe an act that is legal but performed improperly.

Generally, a civil defendant will be liable for misfeasance if the defendant owed a duty of care toward the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty of care by improperly performing a legal act, and the improper performance resulted in harm to the plaintiff.