HL Deb 04 December 1991 vol 533 cc225-7

2.49 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are aware that certain local authorities are imposing a surcharge on persons who have already paid the community charge in full in order to cover the shortfall caused by the non-payment of the community charge by other residents in their area; and whether they approve of this practice.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Waddington)

My Lords, in setting a community charge the local authority has to estimate the level of non-recoverable charges in the coming year and, to the extent that it made insufficient provision for non-collection in the current year, allow for that also. This does mean that the charge is set at a higher level than would be necessary if every local resident was prepared to pay his or her dues. Authorities must, of course, make every effort to collect the community charge from those who have not paid, using the wide-ranging enforcement powers at their disposal. People who are withholding payment must realise that there will be no amnesty for non-payers.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive reply. However, will he indicate whether or not the demand for a second instalment from someone who has paid the charge in full is valid or whether it can be successfully defied?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, as I understand it, it is not a second demand. It is that one finds on the poll tax bill an item, I think under "other adjustments", which covers the charge that it is necessary to make as a result of unpaid community charge during the current year and an estimate of what might be the unpaid charges during the coming year.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, I note the comprehensive reply that the Minister gave to his noble friend. However, he did not reply to the Question. The Question asks whether the Government approve of this practice.

Lord Waddington

My Lords, with the greatest respect to noble Lords, the Question did not ask whether the Government approve of the practice but whether they were aware that certain local authorities were imposing a surcharge. Indeed, we are so aware because the law requires them to do so. If indeed there are unpaid charges in the current year, then the charge which appears on the demand has to cover the charges which are estimated to be unpaid in the coming year and the charges which have not been paid in the current year.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, my noble friend has said that there will be no amnesty. I presume that that means that the Government still hope that the non-payers will pay, however fragile that hope is. If they succeed, and the non-payers eventually pay, will they pay the extra money back to the ratepayers who paid?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, in that event the money which was received late from the people who did not pay at the time they should have paid would go into the coffers of the local authority and therefore would go some way towards defraying the next community charge or council tax, or whatever.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal be good enough to convey to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, my congratulations at his timing in introducing this Question on the very day after Mr. Michael Portillo, the Minister for Local Government, rejected an amendment to the council tax Bill from Tory Back-Benchers aimed at preventing councils surcharging for non-collection? Will he confirm that Mr. Portillo said yesterday: The move might mean the councils had less to spend on services than the Government thought they should, which would affect all their residents, including those who had paid".

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I was replying to a Question about the poll tax—the community charge. I have replied correctly that there is an item on the bill which deals with the situation where there has been non-payment. That certainly applies until any new tax replaces the community charge.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend look again at the Question and appreciate, first, that I specifically asked him whether the Government approve of the practice? Secondly, I asked whether it was the practice, after a full payment had been made of the demand originally submitted, for a later demand to be made by some local authorities simply to make up their deficit?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I apologise to noble Lords. I referred to the first part of the Question, not the second. I apologise to my noble friend. The last sentence of the Question asks me whether the Government approve of this practice.

I believe that I answered fully. The law requires local authorities to make up the lost revenue as a result of non-collection. I was not aware of any supplementary bills being handed out by local authorities. As I said, in the bill which local authorities issue they have to estimate the lost revenue in the current year and make an estimate of the lost revenue in the coming year.

Lord Shepherd

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal agree that the law is the law in regard to the poll tax? Does that apply equally to Sunday trading?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I am absolutely sure of one thing. Even if I had misread the Question, it has nothing whatsoever to do with Sunday trading.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My Lords, is my noble friend aware, although it is not within his immediate province, that the community charge this year in the Lothian region of Scotland is £444, and that in each of the past two years there has been an increase due to non-payment? In this year we are threatened with a further 10 per cent. Can he see any realistic end to that situation?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, if one looks at the figures for collection, they are encouraging. If one takes the financial year 1991–92, by 30th September of this year 39 per cent. of the budgeted yield had been collected. That was after bills had been sent out very much later than otherwise would have been the case because of the reduction in the headline charge which was announced earlier this year. For the financial year 1990–91, by 30th September of this year local authorities had collected 95 per cent. of the budgeted yield.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, outlined a policy being pursued by some local authorities. Will the noble Lord the Leader of the House say whether what they do or propose to do is legal?

Lord Waddington

My Lords, I have answered the question on a number of occasions. In the Bill which legislates for the poll tax an addition has to be made for the unpaid charges in the current year and for an estimate of what may be unpaid in the coming year. No question should arise of any supplementary bill.