Sunday, 28 May 2017

Council Tax exemptions data update

As regular readers of BeestonWeek will know I have a thing about council tax exempt properties, especially in relation to occupants in 'full-time education', generally referred to as 'student housing'.

My 'thing' relates to how too much student housing in any one area (eg. Lenton, Beeston) upsets the 'balance' of a street and the community it is part of. You have to look no further than electoral rolls for evidence of this fact. In turn this impacts on local shops, schools, house prices and local government revenue in the form of council tax income and any additional services as a result of the exemptions .

In February 2015 I Broxtowe Borough Council kindly provided me with data which I used to create a table of council tax exempt properties in the Borough by street and areas, plus a map of Beeston showing the density of council tax exempt properties by street (you can still see all this in my pages section to the right, where there are links).

At the end of 2016 I began the process of trying to update the data, but Broxtowe Borough Council refused me the data I requested. After I submitted a Freedom of Information request to Broxtowe Borough Council I was promised the data for mid-March 2017. I didn't chase it because by then I was in hospital having just had open heart surgery. When I did get onto it in April, there were clearly problems because the council officer who compiled the data in 2015 had left and what detailed data I was given was clearly inaccurate, so we arranged that I would have the data by the end of May (ie. about now).

In the event the data problems have continued, but I have found myself in contact with the person who has responsibility for compiling the data. After exchanging e-mails and on reflection we have agreed to compile detailed data about council tax exempt properties in Broxtowe for the end of September 2017. This has the advantage of coinciding with the beginning of the new academic year and the preparation of draft budgets for the next financial year.

As I have said on countless occasions this is not a party political issue as far as I am concerned. The fact that I am a Labour Party member does not prevent me from working with members of other political parties when it comes to council tax exempt properties. I believe a joint approach to this sensitive issue makes sense.

I was recently invited to write a contribution to the Beeston & District Civic Society Newsletter on the issue. I don't know whether it has been used, but I have just noticed an error on my part, brought about by me transposing two digits and, as a consequence, turning £590,000 in £950,000. The former is, according to a senior Broxtowe Borough Council officer in an e-mail to a borough councillor, 'The full council tax charge for Broxtowe residents in full time education in 2016/16 is around £590,000' (includes Borough, County, Police and Fire precepts).

Given that a 1p council tax charge produces c£53,000, then 11p of our charge goes to covering the lost council tax exemption income before any services are provided. The officer in question says 'The cost to (Broxtowe Borough Council) will be around £59,000'.

My numerical 'slip' may have been my mind thinking that in just a few years council tax exempt properties in Broxtowe will be costing council tax payers nearer £1,000,000.

I also know that this is not an issue Broxtowe borough councillors have investigated. Given the sums of money involved this is remiss of them. Even when they do see this information, as I know one councillor has, its significance seems to pass them by.

I am now extremely hopeful that the data I am working on with Broxtowe Borough Council will be shared with councillors and some way of putting the data in the public domain will be found which ensures a constructive dialogue takes place. Given the interest now being shown by Beeston & District Civic Society I hope they can be the mechanism by which this data reaches a wider audience.

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