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How Far is the Poll Tax a 'Communitv Charge'? The Implications of Service Usage Evidence

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The poll tax reform of local government finance in Britain is justified in part by arguments for using a 'benefit tax', which relates tax to the use made of local services. We review the theory of local public finance and find some support for this argument, although this is not overwhelming and neither the Government nor the theoretical literature provide any empirical evidence on the actual pattern of service benefits. This article attempts to rectify this omission by drawing on unique new household survey evidence from the County of Cheshire, which enables the cost of services used by each of a representative sample of households to be estimated. The distribution of service usage can then be compared with the distribution of alternative local taxes, specifically the existing rates system and the poll tax. It is argued that the most appropriate comparisons are between income and socio-economic groups standardised for demographicstructure, and the treatment of rebates is also considered. The article concludes that the poll tax incidence deviates systematically from the pattern of service usage and is therefore not a good benefit tax, worse in fact than the current rating system.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1989

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