THE council tax must be replaced with income-based charges to protect poorer Scots, according to the results of a major survey published today.
Almost 4,500 people gave their views in a nationwide survey carried out for the Scottish Government-backed body charged with overhauling the system.
Results revealed today show 39 per cent want the property-based charge scrapped in favour of a tax based on the ability to pay.
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Another 13 per cent say it should relate to the extent to which residents use local services, while the same percentage favour the property-based charge.
However, Local Government Minister Marco Biagi, co-chair of the Commission on Local Tax Reform, said: “There is clear consensus from those that we have heard from – whether through this survey, our call for evidence and the public events that have taken place – that the current system of council tax, while highly visible, is in urgent need of reform.”
The commission, jointly established with local government umbrella group Cosla, was set up to find “fairer” alternatives to the council tax, which was introduced in Scotland in 1993.
The system raises around £2.3 billion every year and helps to fund local services.
The commission’s remit includes considering the impact of change on local democracy and the wider social implications, including issues of inequality.
Most of those who responded to the online survey felt the current system is simple and easy to pay and understand, but branded it “unfair” and said it “fails to protect those who can’t afford to pay”.
Younger people aged 16-34 were more likely to have negative views on the tax, along with those on low incomes and single people.
However, these groups – unemployed people, council and housing association tenants, households in lower council tax bands – were under-represented within the survey group, as were women.
Around 25 per cent of respondents said the existing council tax bands must be reviewed to reflect current property values, introducing a new threshold and even new bands for higher value homes.
Many suggested the new bands should be smaller with more graduation to provide a “fairer and more progressive system”.
Overall, 20 per cent of those who wanted such changes said higher tax rates must be brought in for the wealthiest households.
The results will be considered along with evidence gathered in fact-finding sessions over the summer. Biagi said: “The views of the public have been at the heart of our work as a commission and the findings of the online survey are a welcome addition to the wealth of evidence from home and abroad that we have considered over the course of our deliberations.
“Ensuring that as many people as possible have had the opportunity to engage in our work will add weight and credibility to our findings when we report.”
Meanwhile, only four per cent of respondents wanted the current council tax freeze to end.
The findings come after Cosla finance spokesman Councillor Kevin Keenan urged the Scottish Government to allow local authorities to vary charges to fund services in the face of cuts.
Keenan said: “We are already operating within a financial straightjacket in terms of the tools we have at our disposal with things like the council tax freeze restricting our ability to operate.
“Make no mistake councils are going to be faced with making very difficult decisions but this time around we are talking about more than soft targets.”