Where does my Council Tax go?
March 14, 2018 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Freedom of Information requests are a fantastic tool for citizens and journalists alike, but they're also a favourite with people who have an axe to grind. When 'James' demanded to know why he had to pay for Adult Social Services and the Fire Brigade though, he probably didn't expect so blunt an answer from South Somerset District Council.
posted by garius (32 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 
That is glorious, and the correct answer to someone who doesn't believe in society.

"Whilst you don't need adult social care now, you may one day. And the people who DO need it now aren't in a position to agree a reasonable price for it."
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 4:03 PM on March 14, 2018 [22 favorites]


Oh, man:
In ancient Rome Marcus Crassus became very wealthy by creating the first fire brigade. But his brigade was not publicly funded, nor did they sell fire insurance. When the brigade arrived at a burning building, Crassus would negotiate with the owner a price he considered reasonable to put out the fire. His brigade would let the building burn until a price was agreed. If the owner failed to agree, they would let it burn to the ground.

Whilst you don't need adult social care now, you may one day. And the people who DO need it now aren't in a position to agree a reasonable price for it.
I always love a good historical burn (pun intended), especially one aimed at entitled libertarian dumbasses.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:06 PM on March 14, 2018 [28 favorites]


That's a fantastic burn, so I think he now needs those services.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:11 PM on March 14, 2018 [25 favorites]


Every year around tax time, I get into a discussion with someone where I admit that I like paying taxes. They do a comic double take and express disbelief. I say that I like things like schools, roads, and a reasonably responsive fire department (although they are slower to respond now that the closest fire station has been closed). And they are like, well, yeah, everyone likes those things, and I shake my head.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:19 PM on March 14, 2018 [38 favorites]


This made me think about another post on the blue from June of 2017, about the town of Roseburg, Oregon. In Roseburg, a lot of the residents feel like 'James' does and they are doing a real time experiment in what happens when you slowly remove all government services.
posted by kovacs at 4:29 PM on March 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


Lately around here (California) we have a decoupling of property tax from, well, from anything due to prop 13.

There's a street where a house set a new selling price record. I estimate the owners will pay just over $40K USD in property taxes annually. There is a house on the same street that I just checked the tax records for that is paying $1,663 in annual property taxes.

I'm all for paying taxes and heck I'm all for paying taxes indexed to property value but people, don't vote in laws that have two houses that are pretty similar in every way, on the same street, with a 25x difference in property taxes.
posted by GuyZero at 4:45 PM on March 14, 2018 [5 favorites]


I was just today at a meeting where an organisation had been sent a request for underpaid VAT for a service they'd received. It wasn't a large amount, but the committee (of which I wasn't a member) voted to refuse to pay on the grounds that they weren't responsible for the administrative mix-up. They decided to wait for a legal letter, and only pay if there was a threat of litigation.

I did a double-take, and now I wish I'd argued that the government body now had to decide whether to spend money on getting a legal letter produced (which would come from the taxes we were all paying) or to just write the money off (and thus deprive the public purse of that amount).

My attitude is that, while I may not always agree on how taxes are spent, that doesn't mean I'm not going to pay my fair share. It's an easy target for general grumbling, but the fact that taxation has been around literally since biblical times and nobody has offered a viable, humane alternative implies that we just need to accept the price of being an organism that thrives by behaving collectively. If you think that a tax is unfair, as some are, the appropriate response is to make a reasonable argument and vote or campaign to get them changed. That's democracy.

The fact that those who have the most money tend to be those who invest the most time and effort into subverting the systems of taxation is an irony that only serves to reinforce my view.
posted by pipeski at 5:04 PM on March 14, 2018 [7 favorites]


I, too, irritate my neighbors by saying I would happily pay more taxes if they keep spending them on good stuff like schools and teachers and roads and firemen. Plenty of tax-haters here in the burbs who like to bitch about “we oay your salary” and “those people” and such....I just say bow much I love the library.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:11 PM on March 14, 2018 [14 favorites]


How does that expression go? Ask a stupid question, get a smart, scathing answer?
posted by dazed_one at 6:26 PM on March 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


Every year around tax time, I get into a discussion with someone where I admit that I like paying taxes.

I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.
posted by TedW at 6:38 PM on March 14, 2018 [18 favorites]


I like *paying* taxes, I just hate the paperwork involved.

This message coming to you from year 3 of cross-border tax filing -_-
posted by quaking fajita at 7:05 PM on March 14, 2018 [11 favorites]


I like paying taxes as well, and the last few years the paperwork has been pretty close to nil. I just get a notice from the tax authorities, log in to the tax portal and do a quick verification of the numbers and if there are no changes required I just let the system do it's thing. I have a quite uncomplicated personal economy, though. I receive my salary, pay my mortgage and put a little bit away in funds and a savings account. I do feel that I get my money's worth as well. My country has a Gini index of around 26, the prime minister earns about 3x the average income and she does not appear in the Panama Papers or anything. I recognise that your local experience may vary wildly, btw.
posted by Harald74 at 12:51 AM on March 15, 2018 [5 favorites]


And I enjoyed them bringing up Crassus. If I recall correctly, his fire brigade was made up of slaves, and if the house owner did not pay up or the house burned down anyway, Crassus would already be on-site to offer the newly destitute owner a "fair" price for the property.

He did become one of the richest persons in recorded history, so I expect he's a role model for predatory capitalists entrepreneurs everywhere.
posted by Harald74 at 12:58 AM on March 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


I give you the awesome Horrible Histories song about Marcus Lucinius Crassus (in the style of Dizzee Rascal), including a description of his “fire service” : https://www.bbc.co.uk/cbbc/watch/p019t4cj?collection=horrible-histories-songs

“If I heard of a house on fire / I’d rush over be a quick cash buyer / My firemen would then douse the flames, BOOM! Another big house to my name!”
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 1:54 AM on March 15, 2018 [3 favorites]


It's a shame that so many people use FOI requests the way they do. I've had experience in my previous job - individuals demanding answers to basic questions with hostility or insane conspiracy theory garbage from gammons or strawmen. On the website above you can find repeat offenders who do nothing but waste everyone's time repeatedly.

The best way to get an answer to most of these questions? Ask nicely!
posted by bumcivilian at 2:19 AM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


I just got the same kind of bill that James did. I pay £126 a *year* towards the adult social care precept James was moaning about in his FOI request.

Until he passed away, the council was paying over £12,000 a year towards my father's care costs, and there are many hundreds, if not several thousands, of elderly people like that in our council area.

IT'S A BARGAIN.

If James is ever in need of significant support from public services, I hope he's also still got the cognitive function to appreciate it.
posted by dowcrag at 3:42 AM on March 15, 2018 [7 favorites]


What does he mean when he says "I have no full-time police, fire or ambulance service"? Does he expect there to be a copper, firefighter and EMT hanging out in his house at all times?
posted by entity447b at 4:25 AM on March 15, 2018 [2 favorites]


He probably lives in a rural area without dedicated full time police, fire and ambulance coverage. These usually covered by retained firefighters and special constables (both part time) and local GP/helicopter coverage for medical needs. This is pretty common in the U.K. countryside, especially northern Scotland.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:42 AM on March 15, 2018


What does he mean when he says "I have no full-time police, fire or ambulance service"?

I took that to mean that he lives in a rural town like mine, where neither the police station nor (as far as I can tell) the fire station is manned full time. Which isn't the same thing as having no full-time emergency service cover for the town, but could easily be misinterpreted as such.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:42 AM on March 15, 2018


It also still costs a bunch, because a fire appliance or police car that only gets used half the time still costs the same amount of money to buy, service and otherwise maintain.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:43 AM on March 15, 2018


Also thanks for posting this, it made my day.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:44 AM on March 15, 2018


Perhaps if the Tories weren't hell-bent on pushing cuts all over the place, so the public can pay for the damage caused by the financial sector, and if the media didn't buy into the same ideology, we wouldn't have quite as many people thinking like James in the UK.

That said, council tax is a horribly unfair way of funding local services and in dire need of reform. I'd like to know if Zac (who replied to James' request) has any good ideas, because he seems like an awfully well-informed and level-headed public servant.
posted by Juso No Thankyou at 6:02 AM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Somerset is an interesting place. South Somerset has a political line running through it with Conservatives in the north and Liberal Democrats in the south. But overall it is an extremely conservative part of England. In fact, as you head northeast, well, here's your MP.
posted by vacapinta at 6:15 AM on March 15, 2018


I estimate the owners will pay just over $40K USD in property taxes annually. There is a house on the same street that I just checked the tax records for that is paying $1,663 in annual property taxes.

This was unstated, but the new house with the $40k taxes sold for approximately $5 million dollars.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:22 AM on March 15, 2018


I work for an adjacent city council, in childrens social care, and I can confirm, we sit around eating biscuits over the dying embers of James largesse. Council tax does indeed pay my wages. I also think that the £1700 per year it costs me is excellent value for the overloaded and shrinking workforce I see around me.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 8:07 AM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


This was unstated, but the new house with the $40k taxes sold for approximately $5 million dollars.

Nope. The house paying $40K in property tax sold for $3M and the house paying $1,663 has a current market value of about $2M probably. But they're on the same street, access the same school, fire department, police force, etc. They're not 25x different.
posted by GuyZero at 8:23 AM on March 15, 2018


Nope. The house paying $40K in property tax sold for $3M and the house paying $1,663 has a current market value of about $2M probably

Unless there are lots of special assessments, $3m is not $40k in property tax, it's like $25k.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:42 AM on March 15, 2018


But whatever the sales price, I agree with your point about Prop 13 and it's even more insane that property is transferable to relatives and that it also applies to commercial property.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:44 AM on March 15, 2018


I love this post, I love these comments. I love Metafilter. I'm generally at a loss whenever people complain about public services or the taxes that pay them. We're in a society.

I feel similarly whenever people complain about benefits for mothers or for children, or complain about crying chidlren. Everyone had a mother, and everyone was a child once! Let's remember we live in a society!
posted by Drowsy Philosopher at 8:46 AM on March 15, 2018 [4 favorites]


Unless there are lots of special assessments, $3m is not $40k in property tax, it's like $25k.

This is the house. It paid $21K in property tax in Santa Clara county, CA for a previous sale price of $1.5M. I could be off but the property tax will go up roughly with the same price, i.e. roughly double.

I agree with your point about Prop 13 and it's even more insane that property is transferable to relatives and that it also applies to commercial property.

When California burns to the ground let us have served as a warning to the rest of you all.
posted by GuyZero at 8:50 AM on March 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


Number crunching:
Using their 2016-2017 budget book (wayback PDF) , the taxes for the various categories are:

District Council: 10.2%
County Council: 71.1%
    (He didn't complain about these)
Adult Social Care: 1.4%
Police Commisioner: 11.9%
Fire & Rescue: 5.4%


So, from his £936, he paid:

£13.04 for Adult Social Care
£111.80 for Police services
£50.16 for Fire & Rescue.

I know the poor civil servant who answered him didn't have time to run the numbers, but I'd've loved to see:
"I also have no full time police force, fire service or ambulance service..."

"Well, for £112 and £50 per year, I should think not! I've got a proposal to change things a bit: instead of providing you with the option of round-the-clock police and fire services, we send a police officer to your house for 4 hours a year, and a fire truck and an ambulance to your house for 1 hour a year each, and you'll be exempt from service the rest of the time."

(Whoops; need to re-run the numbers - if 936 is his District Council amount, I need to recalculate the rest. But the general idea still holds.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:38 PM on March 15, 2018


I'm amazed someone in Somerset DC didn't squelch this response before it got sent. Having worked in local govt we've all mentally written FoI responses like that, but they'd never get past Legal (which I see is where the author works, so maybe that explains it).

Also, I don't understand why SSDC didn't redirect the query to Somerset County Council,which is responsible for adult social care and fire services, unless they just wanted the opportunity for a rant.

I do like the fact that James has gone into What Do They Know after receiving the reply and marked the request as successful. One can picture him reading it and nodding, thinking "ok, fair enough".
posted by paduasoy at 12:26 AM on March 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


« Older Psychomagic   |   Appalachia Isn't Trump Country Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments