Tax debt write-off

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Colin Hamilton (Letters, 7 October) states that the main thread of Hugh Kerr’s letter (4 October) and mine (6 October) was that “those who did not pay [the poll tax] were by implication justified – or at least, exonerating them is justified”.

Neither I nor Mr Kerr argued that non-payment was justified, or that the non-payment is being exonerated.

The argument is that the action of writing off the debt is exonerated; just as the Financial Conduct Authority is exonerated in obliging Wonga to write off debts of borrowers who should not have been lent money.

The reasons for non-payment of the poll tax were various. It is very likely that some people just refused to accept their social duty to pay the tax, but the majority of defaulters either did not do so on principle or tried to pay.

Terry Fields, a Liverpool MP, went to prison rather than pay the tax. Many council house tenants on low wages were faced with a choice between essential family expenditure and paying the tax. Their refusal to pay would be morally, but not legally, justified.

I do not believe that there are practical ways of determining which poll tax defaulters were in this last category and which could pay but did not. Given that this practical difficulty gives good moral grounds for the Scottish Government’s decision, I support it – while being aware that political, rather than moral, considerations underpin that decision.

A local income tax would certainly be a better way of collecting money to pay for local services, not only from the point of view of fairness but also from a purely economic standpoint.

If we think of a local authority as an entity which sells services to local residents, then, as a monopolist, it should practice price discrimination order to maximise its income.

Price discrimination is the practice of charging each customer what he or she is willing to pay: the well-off pay more than the poor for the same product or service, much as a plumber’s charge to fit a bathroom in a six-bedroom detached house is likely to be more than the charge for the same bathroom in a one-bedroom flat in a deprived area.

(Dr) Francis Roberts

Duddingston Square West

Edinburgh

By saying that I have “nailed my colours to the mast in being on the side of a noisy minority who appealed to the people’s baser instincts” regarding non-payment of the poll tax (Letters, 7 October) Irvine Inglis resorts to the same shabby tactic adopted by Brian Petrie on 4 October in insulting people who demonstrated in a legitimate way against it.

He does not answer my other points, not least the fact that the other members of the Union do not pursue these debts after six years.

However, he does go on to validate one of them, showing himself in his true colours as another armchair warrior prepared to make pejorative assumptions about me – someone he has never met.

I have already pointed readers to the editorial which appeared in The Scotsman (3 October) and which noted that no charge which levied the same amount on our lowest paid workers as a millionaire could ever be described as fair or just.

Hence my use of the word “iniquitous”.

Douglas Turner

Derby Street

Edinburgh