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No collaboration with revaluation

Mark_wallace_2Mark 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 immediately:

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 Office Agency?

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 database?

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.


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