Toilet tax is unfair but we must introduce it – our hands are tied

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

Tynwald buildings, Douglas

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The Water Authority has no contingency plan should Tynwald vote down the controversial ‘toilet tax’ at this month’s sitting.

Questions about the £50 a property sewerage charge, due to be brought in from April, dominated this week’s House of Keys question time.

Chairman of the Water and Sewerage Authority John Houghton admitted the charge was ‘quite, quite unfair’ but added: ‘We have to do it - our hands are tied’.

He said that WASA, in conjunction with Treasury, has reviewed several options and timescales for the introduction of the sewerage charge and the Council of Ministers had approved both the scale of the charge and the timetable for implementation at a meeting on January 16 this year.

And he revealed that the board originally proposed a £75 charge per property per year to be introduced from April 2015 - but CoMin subsequently agreed it should be brought forward to 2014 at £50 per property, rising to £100 in 2015.

MHKs were told it was estimated the charge would raise £2 million for WASA which the chairman said would offset Treasury funding lost over this and the last financial years.

He said an order would be brought to this month’s Tynwald sitting allowing for the charge to be brought in from April.

Brenda Cannell (Douglas East) asked what contingency was in place if members voted it down. Mr Houghton replied: ‘The authority has no contingency. This is forced on us. It will simply mean it’s back to the drawing board.’

Mrs Cannell suggested the board could be in breach of the law if the charge was brought in before 2015, claiming it would have had to have been signed before January 31 in the financial year before it is to take effect.

But Mr Houghton insisted ‘all legislative provisions are in place. It was signed before the date mentioned’.

Replying to a question from Zac Hall (Onchan), he confirmed the charge would apply equally to homes, businesses, church halls and charities.

He confirmed there had been no consultation before the flat-rate charge had been brought forward. There would be full consultation, however, on any plans to charge for trade effluent and it would be two to three years before any charge came in.

Peter Karran, (Lib Van. Onchan), claimed this ‘poll tax on toilets’ would end up costing each household £250 per year – a figure questioned by the WASA chairman.

Mr Houghton said there was ‘no doubt’ the charge would have been attached to the water rate if the rating system had been fair and equitable.

Earlier, Treasury Minister Eddie Teare said it was intention to complete a review of rateable values of properties between March 2015 and September 2016.

Chief Minister Allan Bell said the aim of such a review was not to raise extra revenue but make the system fairer. He said a great deal of work had been done on this previously so ‘we can hit the ground running’. He said the cost of implementation had previously been estimated at £1 million.

Leonard Singer (Ramsey) suggested it would be fairer to place a charge on each adult in a household.

Mr Bell replied: ‘Mrs Thatcher had the same idea – it was called the Poll Tax. I can’t say I will be very enamoured to follow the same route.’

Chris Thomas (Douglas West) asked if alternatives to the rating system was being considered.

The Chief Minister said: ‘We are still continuing with the existing system and trying to modernise it and make it more appropriate.’

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