Council tax payers seeking to avoid the SNP's higher band hike face a Kafkaesque bureaucratic trap

Written by Mark McLaughlin on 3 November 2016 in Comment

Over half of Scotland's homes are in the wrong council tax band but there is no way out for most people stuck in a higher band who will now pay even more under the SNP's reforms.

I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Kilmarnock-born author Graeme Macrae Burnet last week as he discussed his Kafkaesque Booker Prize entry, His Bloody Project.

As Killie’s own Josef K recounted the spiritual origins of his novel, not in the downtrodden crofts of the Scottish highlands but the post-communist cafes of Prague, I was reminded of my own very topical brush with Kafkaesque bureaucracy. 

Shortly before the Holyrood recess, the Local Government Committee backed the Scottish Government’s plan to raise council tax on bands E and above.

When the proposal was first announced in March, I was paying Band E tax on a £130,000 flat overlooking a £320,000 bungalow with an Audi in the drive in the same band.

More than mildly miffed by the apparent unfairness, I went cap in hand to the local taxman and, like poor crofter Macrae, politely inquired: “I wish to see the regulations.”

Like Macrae’s factor, the taxman shook his head curtly and informed me that there are no regulations – at least not in my case – and bid me on my way to perpetually pay a proportionate price to the prosperous proximate proprietor.

You see, when the council tax was drafted in the early 1990s, the Tories, still reeling from the mass-disobedience of the poll tax, introduced a kicker that taxpayers could only appeal their band within six months of occupying the property.

Just six months, during that heady period when most people are muddled by mortgage rates and measuring curtains, to do a comprehensive review of the local housing market and demonstrate that their humble abode is an outlier.

I had plummeted from Burnet’s crofts, through Kafka’s kangaroo courts and into the sties of Orwell’s pigs – four months good, six months bad.

Not that I had the means to do a comprehensive market review. It costs £24 to see past prices of just one property, and a £500 deposit plus a credit check to do a wider search.  

Had the valuation board been taken over by Vogons – who wouldn’t lift a finger to save their grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found...well, you get the picture?

My advice on appealing to a valuation board is the same as Douglas Adams’ advice on getting help from a Vogon: Forget it!

A freedom of information request revealed that band appeals doubled in March, but in some regions the success rate was as little as one in twenty.

You can pay £500, get a credit check, gather evidence, demand a tax cut, have a meeting, get rejected, appeal, get rejected, go to a valuation appeals committee, get rejected, go to the Court of Session, get rejected and end up back where you started. 

Six months? No cut.

 

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