Magazine article Public Finance

Time Up for the Unfair Tax?

Magazine article Public Finance

Time Up for the Unfair Tax?

Article excerpt

We hear a lot about the cost of living these days. So much so it's become part of the mantra for freezing council tax. Put that together with the fact that nobody likes taxes (never mind the spectre of the poll tax riots) and you see why council tax is such an easy political football to kick around.

No one wants to stand for re-election based on a mandate of increased council tax bills, with expected reductions in London for 2014/15 seemingly linked to May's local elections. The sympathy card is often played for a quick political win - note the council tax relief offered for flood victims, without any attempt to address underlying unfairness.

This all makes it harder to address the fundamental problems with council tax that have become progressively worse since the system was hastily introduced in 1993 to replace the hated poll tax.

With valuations standing since 1991 (outside a Welsh revaluation in 2005), house prices are now completely out of kilter with council tax. That may well have contributed to house price inflation in the boom years.

The inherent ambiguity of whether council tax is a charge for local services or an imperfect property tax also blocks reform. In reality, authorities have little flexibility on council tax and it is not their main funding source. It's also unclear why paying council tax offers any greater accountability than voting in local elections.

Most important, though, council tax is unfair. If you live in a lower-value property, you end up paying a higher proportion of its value in tax. So a property valued at £320,001 is worth nearly five times a £68,001 home but pays only twice the amount of tax. While that makes it easy to sympathise with the now regular-as-clockwork calls for a mansion tax, it would leave untouched the unfairness inherent in the design of council tax.

And I haven't even mentioned the very real political spectre of the impoverished elderly widow living in her expensive property that always arises whenever council tax reform is mentioned. Using such evocative images makes it easy for politicians to do nothing for fear of a public backlash.

Yet the uneasy alliance between government and local authorities on council tax freezes is unravelling, and not necessarily on straight party political grounds.

Doing nothing leaves the nearly two-thirds of people whose bills would fall by more than 10% under a progressive property tax still paying more; this at a time when a family of four has seen the amount they need to spend just to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living increase by 25% in the last five years. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.