Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

Some call me paranoid, but I don't think one can be suspicious enough when it comes to the activities of Lambeth Council.

I guessed it might be up to another ruse when I received a more than usually threatening letter at the end of July informing me that it was undertaking a review of council tax discounts. Actually, I didn't receive it at the end of July, because I was on holiday.

Along with thousands of other people who will have been sent the letter at that time, I only read it when I returned from various summer trips.

It warned me that unless I re-registered for my single occupancy discount by 30 August, the discount would be rescinded 'from the date that it was first issued'. Let's think about that. The discount was first issued to me in 2001. I lost it briefly in 2002 when I took in a lodger. Then I re-registered for it in 2003 when the lodger moved out and have had it ever since.

If the discount was to be rescinded like this, I faced being billed by Lambeth Council for £300 a year for 11 years. Or to put it another way, if I had been on holiday throughout August, which was still legal the last time I checked, I would have returned in September to a completely spurious demand for £3,300. This would be doubly galling because my 25 per cent single occupier discount is one of the rare success stories in my ongoing battle against Them.

I secured it after a Labour minister informed me of its existence as we had lunch when I was a lobby correspondent. I was moaning about the depravity of Labour taxes when he suddenly said, 'Hang on. You say your council tax is £1,200 a year. But you live alone, right? You should be registering for the discount.'

I leaned in so close I was inches from grabbing him by his lapels over the table.

'Discount?' I gasped. 'What are you saying?

I've been paying all this money all this time and I'm entitled to pay less?'

He nodded, petrified.

'Why didn't anyone tell me?' I was pretty much screeching now.

'Well, it's just that, er, we figure that if you're poor enough you will know what benefits you're entitled to.'

'But I'm entitled! I'm entitled, right?' He nodded and squeaked.

I rushed out of the restaurant to ring the council for a form and, bar the year I had a lodger, I've been claiming it ever since. …

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