The legacy of the community charge, or “poll tax”, is still with us in the form of a modern property tax system called the council tax. Whilst I enjoyed Brian Wilson’s historical account of the charge’s introduction and part demise (Scottish Perspective, 3 January), it is worth making a few points about the introduction of its successor.
After the departure of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in November 1990, the case for reform of local government finance fell to the man most identified with her downfall –Environment Secretary Michael Heseltine. He had to introduce the new council tax at breakneck speed (a general election was not far away). But he had to make a number of compromises with Conservative backbenchers still loyal to Mrs Thatcher and still committed to the principles on which the community charge was based.
As a result, the council tax has a number of the regressive features associated with the poll tax. People in the very highest band can pay no more than three times those in the very lowest band. A personal element was introduced to give those who lived alone in a property a 25 per cent discount on what they should pay, whatever property band they were in. It was reform only of a kind and I hope Mr Wilson will note Labour has done very little in the last 25 years to change those regressive elements of the tax.
At a time of falling real incomes for the majority, a freeze on the council tax has gone some way to ease pressure on households across the social spectrum. It is too simplistic for Mr Wilson to say a freeze only protects the better off. It has played an important social role in helping families cope with the tax’s essential unfairness.