Unwanted and unfair

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The poll tax, or community charge, was introduced as part of the Local Government Finance Act in April 1990. The legislation aimed to ensure that everyone paid something, regardless of their income. However, as it was charged against people rather than property, as the old rates had been, it led to anomalies; one wealthy person living in a mansion would pay only a fraction charged to five unemployed people living in a council house.

Anti poll tax campaigners argue that defaulters have fewer rights than criminals because they are not entitled to Legal Aid, there is no remission of sentence for defaulters, and there is no right of appeal. A study to be published tomorrow shows that 2,089 people have been jailed for non-payment since April 1990. Protests against the poll tax culminated with the Trafalgar Square riot in March 1990. It was replaced by a Council Tax in April 1993. Frank Dobson, the shadow environment secretary, said Labour believed those who can pay should make their contribution to the cost of services. However, he added: "We do not feel prison or any kind of punishment is appropriate for people who are simply too poor to pay."