Mark Wallace of the TaxPayers’ Alliance urges Conservative Councils to resist Labour’s plans for tax hikes on "nice" localities.
The news in Boxing Day’s Telegraph that the Government have compiled a detailed database listing every area in the country by order of how pleasant it is, as part of their preparations for a council tax revaluation, is extremely worrying.
Before we even consider the implications of the database, the prospect of a revaluation is worrying in itself. Whilst it is undoubtedly the case that the current council tax system is fundamentally flawed, experience in recent years should teach us that "revaluation" actually means "wholesale tax increase". In Wales, the council tax revaluation saw a third of homes hit with higher taxes and only 8% given a lower banding. A fair and honest reform of the council tax system would be welcome, but at the moment the powers that be simply cannot be trusted to carry out such reform. Put simply, it would be an out and out tax grab.
This is not the first time that such a "revaluation" has been threatened, of course – the Government had to back down in 2007 because of widespread opposition to their plans. If people felt they could not afford a further tax hike then, what chance do they have of being able to afford it now?
The new aspect of the plans, of course, is the database that has apparently been compiled covertly by tax inspectors to prepare for a post-General Election revaluation. According to reports, this divides the country into 10,000 areas that are ranked by demographic, traffic levels, crime rates, profession and goodness knows what else. The clear function of such a database, no matter what the Government says, is to penalise with higher taxes areas that score well.
The current system is bad enough, with pensioners in particular slapped
with huge bills that bear no relation to their actual income, but if
anything this system would be even less fair. If you are a pensioner
earning a pittance, but still living in the house you bought 40 years
ago, who acquires some well-to-do neighbours, your tax will rise as a
result. If you live in a rough area but form a neighbourhood watch
scheme that drives down crime, or set up a youth club to keep kids off
the street and out of trouble, you will be punished with higher taxes
for helping your community and improving your area. This is a tax on
aspiration, on good neighbourliness and on doing the right thing.
The very fact that the Government is trying to keep the database
secret, even going to the absurd lengths of refusing Freedom of
Information access on the woolly grounds of "commercial sensitivity",
is a sign of how explosive this issue is. It is frankly a disgrace that
they are clearly planning to raise council taxes and introduce such an
unfair method of calculation after the next General Election but are
not willing to come clean with the public beforehand so they can put it
to a vote.
There is one other way to drag at least some of this database out into
the open, which all ConservativeHome readers can help with. Apparently,
local councils themselves have taken part in its compilation, dividing
up their own areas into nice and not-so-nice localities, and presumably
advising the Valuation Office on the details of each chunk in the
knowledge that some are being marked for higher taxation. With
Conservatives making up vast swathes of local government, I would urge
every Councillor to start asking questions of their council officers
What are the localities that your area has been carved up into for the
purposes of council tax revaluation, or at the request of the Valuation
What information has been provided to the VOA about the demographic make up or quality of life in each locality?
What communications has the council had from the VOA or the DCLG or
anyone else about potential revaluation or the compilation of this
Ordinary voters and taxpayers should ask the same questions of their
councillors, and submit Freedom of Information requests if they refuse
to answer. If you do uncover any information, please post it here,
inform your local press and send it to the TaxPayers’ Alliance, too.
This revaluation is a serious financial threat to taxpayers across the
country, but it also threatens to further damage aspiration, hope, hard
work and even the concept of taking pride in your neighbourhood. For
our financial security but also for those principals which are so
crucial to improving the nation’s quality of life, we all have a
responsibility to fight these proposals.
You can join the TaxPayers’ Alliance for free here.