Cannock justices had been entitled to regard David Ireland's case as one 'where the weapon of imprisonment should be used, rather than merely threatened', Lord Justice Evans ruled yesterday.
The appeal court cut Mr Ireland's sentence to 14 days, but ordered that he be sent back to prison to serve out the rest of his sentence of which he has so far served one day.
Only by now paying off his entire debt can Mr Ireland hope to remain free.
'There must come a time when magistrates can and should resort to the punitive approach, because if the coercive regime is seen to have no teeth, it will lose its coercive power', said the judge.
'When coercion has been properly tried and has failed, prison is the last resort.
'Mr Ireland had given no satisfactory explanation for his total non-compliance with the magistrates' order, and failure to pay anything at all.'
Mr Ireland, owes Cannock Chase DC £354.58 poll tax arrears for the year ending 1990/91.
And on 27 November 1992, Cannock justices fixed a 30-day prison sentence, suspended on condition that he paid off his arrears at £10-a-week.
He paid nothing at all and the magistrates jailed him on March 19 1993. He was bailed the same day, pending his bid for judicial review.
His counsel, Ian Wise, told the appeal court that the magistrates had failed to fully consider the option of making direct deductions from his income support.
But Lord Justice Henry told the court: 'the maximum weekly deduction that could have been made from his income support and credited against his community charge debt was £2 per week at that time.'
At that rate, the debt would take Mr Ireland 'something over four years to pay off once the costs had been added to the original sum'.
The Magistrates had given Mr Ireland a suspended jail term in the hope that it might coerce him into payment, but to no avail, said the judge.
'The magistrates had heard the suggestion of deduction from income support, had understood it, and had rejected it', Lord Justice Henry concluded.
Lord Justice Evans and Lord Justice Peter Gibson agreed that the Magistrates had been entitled to commit Mr Ireland to prison, but that his sentence should be cut to 14 days.
If Mr Ireland now serves out his sentence rather than paying off his arrears, his debt will be wiped out.