Wandsworth is admittedly regarded as one of the most efficient councils in the country, and an area I have known well for many years, visiting family and friends who now own multi-million pound houses which they purchased for a small fraction of that amount a generation or two ago.
So, when my latest Ipswich Borough council tax bill popped through the letterbox, telling me that Band D has now risen to £1624.95 a year, following the fourth rise by the Labour administration in as many years, I googled Wandsworth to see what the equivalent charge there is. Surprise, surprise, it is just £68l. Nearly £1,000 cheaper, yet an average Band D home in Ipswich would be worth around £250,000.
Anyone can see that this is totally unfair.
I would, however, never support a Mansion Tax. It is the politics of envy yet again. If we can’t have what you have, we’ll try to ruin it for you. Worse still, it will penalise those who are not multi-millionaires, but acquired their homes when prices were more affordable because specific locations which are now highly desirable (especially in London) were being gradually ‘gentrified’. Despite their lucky gamble, forcing these owners to pay more than £250 a month extra, in addition to other bills (including rising council tax) would be completely unaffordable in retirement.
Let me explain: before moving to Suffolk in the late ‘70s, my husband and I were on the verge of buying a 3 bedroom terraced house in Islington overlooking a garden square. It cost £23,500, and needed quite a lot of work. Today, it would be worth nearer £2.5 million..
Instead, we paid £18,000 for a brand new four bedroom detached house in a quarter of an acre – now worth about £375,000. Regrets? I certainly have a few. I love London and still miss it. But, had we stayed in Islington, I’d be unable to afford this new tax, and probably be forced to sell my home.
Although Ed Balls struggles to articulate his Mansion Tax, and says he won’t be able to provide details until Labour is elected and he is in the Treasury, he has previously said that payment could be deferred (with interest) until a property is sold, or the owner dies – which means that their asset could be almost valueless over, say, a decade or two. Labour’s reward for a lifetime of hard work, good luck and careful financial management – and a slap in the face for those who aspire to better themselves through hard work.
However, Mr. Balls (and Yvette) as well as Ed Miliband, are part of a generation of pre-2010 MPs who were able to acquire properties in London and their constituencies with the help of the taxpayer, so, should Labour pursue this punitive proposal, I suggest that all their property assets (including holiday homes) are combined into a single valuation for the purposes of the Mansion Tax.
No doubt Mr. and Mrs. Balls – along with many front bench and other colleagues – would qualify handsomely. Perhaps they would then take a different view of its fairness? And, since only one per cent of the richest homeowners actually have two kitchens, perhaps Mr. Balls should introduce a further tax for more than one.
So, isn’t it time to review council tax, with a new band (or two) perhaps? Additional income across London and the other areas benefiting from higher than average property prices, could be pooled for improvements to transport, education, the Arts, releasing some central government funding for targeted investment in those regions which so desperately under-perform.
A modest council tax rise would be preferable to, for example, introducing other taxes, such as congestion charges (as is proposed by the Greens for Cambridge) which penalise everyone. It is also hypocritical because people need to use their cars – for school runs and getting to/from work, as well as for leisure. Cycling or using public transport is simply not appropriate or possible for many people.
Talking of hypocrisy, why do Labour councils continue to increase rents on their housing estates, when they constantly a). bleat about the ‘cost of living crisis’ and b). criticise the government for the increase in housing benefit costs? For example, in Ipswich, the fourth rise in as many years means that 3,100 council tenants who receive full housing benefit, and the 2,070 who are eligible for some, will be subsidised by the taxpayer, leaving just 2,830 tenants to pay the full amount.
Cost of living crisis? Too right. And we know who to blame.
These increases are neither justified nor fair, especially when Ipswich Borough has just spent £2m to ‘refurbish’ 150+ 70-year-old prefabs with new roofs (for the second time) and window repairs without a long-term strategy to replace them with much-needed new bungalows, without asbestos, on smaller, more easily managed, plots for the elderly and disabled who currently struggle to access their front doors across vast waterlogged greenswards on the prefab estate!
With budgets under ever closer scrutiny, councils should be focusing on what residents want them to deliver, remembering that council services are actually very expensive when compared with the equivalent delivered by the private sector. And don’t tell me the quality is better, because all too often it isn’t; private businesses only survive if they deliver customer satisfaction.