Traditionally, charities have been exempt from paying water/sewerage charges. Providing water for everything from homeless shelters to churches was seen as the very least the state could do, without burdening them with a tax to pay for it. In Scotland, at least, all that could soon change with the government's plans to axe this charitable exemption in their current review of water charging.
The government's handling of the charitable sector over the last decade has been a mixed bag. On one hand the gift-aid scheme has continued to channel a large amount of cash out of government coffers and into charitable works; on the other hand the gradual shift in emphasis from direct to 'stealth' taxes has meant that an ever reducing proportion of the overall tax burden is eligible for such benefits.
If the charitable exemption from water charging is axed as proposed, it will amount to an extra tax being imposed upon some of the most valuable work being done in our communities. In Scotland it is a de facto tax, because Scottish Water remains state owned. It is certainly the case that as we enter a probable recession, the government's revenues from business profits will tumble, their borrowing increase and they will need to claw-back expenditure from every conceivable source. The fact remains however that we still pursue foreign policy initiatives which in their scale have failed to notice our decline from being a major world player with an Empire, to being a minor European state. The UK bill in Iraq has now topped £7bn, but apparently we cannot pipe water to the CATH centre for the homeless in Perth, without taxing them.
If the general principles of this proposal seem all wrong, the details look worse. Whichever well-meaning bureaucrat was charged with the task of establishing principles for charging water rates has decided that the most equitable way of banding the properties is by 'roof area'. This bizarre and entirely arbitrary idea no doubt looks terrific when viewed from the perspective of ...... well anywhere except the real world. In practice it could mean that a large church building could be put into a very high billing-band, not because hundreds of church-members go there to bath, wash their clothes, run their dishwashers or run micro-breweries or other such water-guzzling activities, but simply because their beautiful old church has a lot of roof tiles.
If, like me, you think that the government should be recognising the value of the charitable sector and not imposing such burdens upon it, read on! There is a petition being presented to the Scottish Government, requesting that the charitable exemption from water charges be maintained. If you agree with me and wish to sign it, you can do so here. If you disagree, tell me why!