Friday, February 10, 2006

Ideas for Council Tax relief?

As there was a by-election in Scotland a little gem of news about ideas for Council Tax relief (originally floated on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday) seems to have been largely ignored by the mainstream media. My guess is that the idea came straight from some "blue skies thinking" policy wonker [sic].

Basically the idea goes like this. You offer relief on Council tax bills based on environmentally driven objectives, for example, if you recycle you get a reduction in your bill. On the face of it, it does sound fair, but practically and operationally how exactly will something like this work?

If it's just going to mean having a blue-lid wheelie bin then everyone will do it and what's to stop people putting just one item in it a week? Unless they're going to check and weigh the rubbish that is being "recycled" how can the system not be open to abuse? What will examining rubbish and recording it per household cost? My guess is that it will require an increase in local taxation to administer such a scheme. What local taxation could that be I wonder? You see the problem?

Practical problems aside there is also the more philosophical issue of information gathering. Do we really want to go down the route of having legislation authorising “Benji the Binmen” operations on all our homes just to save a few quid in Council Tax? One of the other ideas that was floated was to offer reductions based on power and water consumption. The problem of course is that water, electric and gas supplies are privatised. So it either means re-nationalisation (unlikely) or worse, legislation obligating private companies to share yet more of our personal information to Government.

I expect these ideas to re-surface when Sir Michael Lyons publishes his report on the future of Council Tax (coming soon apparently). In fact, these suggestions are probably a trail to that report, and the lack of negative reaction to them will probably be taken as tacit approval.

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