DCSIMG

Deluge of questions over costs of bringing in toilet tax

Chris Thomas MHK

Chris Thomas MHK

  • by Adrian Darbyshire
 

Water authority chairman John Houghton faced a deluge of awkward questions from MHKs about the costs of introducing the toilet tax.

In the House of Keys, he maintained there were no extra costs of collecting the £50 a household flat rate charge as it would be included in the water rates.

But while he admitted there would be a setting up cost, he could not give a figure - and insisted the question was ‘highly irrelevant’.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that it is not yet known how much of the toilet tax public sector housing tenants will be asked to pay.

Mr Houghton was replying to a series of questions from Douglas West MHK Chris Thomas, who presented a 6,300-name petition opposing the toilet tax ahead of the key Tynwald debate last month when members voted 24-9 in favour of its introduction.

He said he stood by his comments that the mechanism of the charge was unfair.

The Water and Sewerage Authority chairman said there would be some upfront work to identify eligible properties and change the Treasury’s computer billing program for water rates but insisted there would be ‘no additional costs in the bill process as the charge is incorporated on the water rates demand’.

He said an exercise to correctly identify which properties will be subject to charge had been ‘thoroughly undertaken’ but with more than 50,000 properties to review, ‘there will inevitably be some errors’.

Brenda Cannell (Douglas East) queried whether this extensive work had been done before or after last month’s Tynwald vote.

‘The work was only carried out since the vote in Tynwald,’ Mr Houghton replied.

‘No planning was done before the approval of Tynwald – does he honestly think that can be the case?’ pressed Peter Karran (Lib Van. Onchan). ‘To the best of my knowledge, my understanding is exactly how I expressed it this morning,’ replied the WASA chairman.

Mrs Cannell pointed out that local authorities have already set their rates for the coming year and suggested they would now face additional costs.

Mr Houghton insisted this wasn’t the case as the sewerage charge went on the water rate and not on the general rates.

Kate Beecroft (Lib Van, Douglas South) suggested that the legal aspects of the charge ‘are a little bit blurred’ and queried whether public sector housing tenants would legally be allowed to refuse to pay the £50. Mr Thomas asked whether it was the owner or the occupier of a property who has to pay the tax.

Mr Houghton replied that this was ‘way beyond the scope’ of Mr Thomas’s original question, which was about the estimated cost of collecting the charge.

But Speaker Steve Rodan ruled that the question was within the scope of the question.

‘It’s disappointing the chairman has not been sufficiently briefed,’ opined Mrs Cannell.

In a written reply to a question from Mr Thomas, the water authority chairman said it was not possible to say what proportion of the 2014-15 sewerage charge will be paid by social security benefits.

He said: ‘For every person claiming an income related benefit we would need to know whether their landlord is going to pass on the sewerage charge to the tenant and the amount of any other housing cost each tenant was required to pay.

‘As housing allowances within income related benefits are capped, if a person’s housing costs are already at the cap or above they would not qualify for an extra allowance. It is not therefore possible to make a reasonable forecast of likely claims.

‘There is at present uncertainty as to whether some, all or none of the public housing bodies will themselves be passing the charge through to their tenants – in part or in full.’

 

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