Rev Dr Richard Frazer: The council tax system in Scotland is inherently unfair

The council tax system is inherently unfair. Picture: Jon Savage
The council tax system is inherently unfair. Picture: Jon Savage
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The current council tax system no longer works for many people living in Scotland. It has been shown that it is inherently unfair – with many of those on lower incomes hit hardest.

It is time to reimagine the council tax as a key way for the Scottish Government to deliver social, environmental and economic policy that would benefit the people of Scotland for many years to come.

We do not support the Scottish Government’s current proposals to increase the ratios of the upper bands (E-H) relative to Band D without addressing the underlying unfairness of the overall council tax system.

One of the Scottish Government’s principles for taxation is that the amount someone is taxed should be proportionate to their ability to pay.

At the very least a revaluation is required to ensure that council tax bills reflect current house values and that the difference between the lowest and highest council tax bills is a fairer reflection of the differences in value of the homes that people live in.

We appreciate that the proposals do include a lifting of the council tax freeze and welcome this move.

The freeze has had a hugely unfair impact on public services delivered by local authorities and cuts have been felt disproportionately by many of the poorest in our society.

However, these proposals as a whole do not enable greater autonomy for local authorities to connect directly with council tax-payers and agree mutually acceptable levels of taxation and service provision. That is what local democracy is about.

Nor do they represent the more progressive taxation system that the Church has consistently advocated, most recently in our report to the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 2015.

In order to bring about greater equality, transparency and a clearer relationship between the Scottish Government, Scottish Parliament and local government, the system of council tax should not remain a long-term option. We would support a wider political discussion on the alternatives to council tax, including a land value tax.

Rev Dr Richard Frazer is convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland and minister at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh