It won't just be the super rich hit by a mansion tax

How will a government assess whether a house has tipped into the £2m bracket?


According to the Evening Standard, thousands more  home-owning Londoners than we thought will find themselves caught in the net of the mansion tax. That’s the one-per-cent levy on homes worth more than £2m that both Labour and the Lib Dems propose to introduce if they win the next election.  But if the price of houses goes on rising faster than the national average, the Standard suggests, the tax will hit not just the bankers or bond dealers or the foreign princelings who currently own half of Knightsbridge, but the people who’ve simply had the bad luck to own a house in a certain area for several years.

If you had the good fortune to buy a place in an OK-ish London suburb for a six-figure sum in the 1990s, the chances are that, whatever you’re earning or whatever your pension is bringing you 20 years later, the house you’ve so enjoyed living in will soon become a huge white elephant, costing you an extra £5,000 or £10,000 a year while you live in it.

Questions about the mansion tax pile up.  Such as: why the stupid name? A mansion is, or used to be, a grand building that houses someone of consequence like the lord of a manor. It is not a semi-detached house in Richmond or Wimbledon where many homes will be worth £2m by the end of the next prime minister’s tenure in Downing Street. Calling it a mansion tax suggests it’s aimed at Manderley or Brideshead; its target is more likely to be number 36a, Acacia Drive.

What will the tax do to the property market? I know people in west London who’ve lived in their house for 15 or 20 years, and have seen its value rise by amazing amounts. But that doesn’t make them high earners or mean they have access to huge sums to pay new annual taxes. And, if the tax becomes law, will they ever be able to sell their house, without dropping the price?

How will a government assess whether a house has tipped over into the £2m bracket? Will gangs of stolid, clipboard-wielding value assessment officers demand access to any dwelling which has a BMW 7 Series parked outside, or has conspicuous double glazing and what looks suspiciously like a conservatory? Or will the tax office leave it to estate agents to advise them how much properties are worth? Won’t that put pressure on estate agents to assess every house on their books at, coincidentally, £1.98m? (“But of course you’re allowed to give the owners a little personal something extra, as a gift, in a plain brown envelope, when they hand over the keys…”) Spare a thought, if you can, for the poor agents at the top end of the market, who will earn nothing as buying and selling stagnate for a couple of years.

Imagine the disarray into which house-owners would be thrown if they thought their home was about to become a taxable item.

Picture the lengths to which they’d go to bring down the value: dismantling the hi-tech, multimedia garden shed, concreting over the Koi carp pond, turning the “wet room” back into a guest bedroom. As for the £20,000 they were planning to spend on repairing the roof – well, why bother improving the saleability of the house if improving it means pricing it out of the market? The building trade will suffer if homeowners stop doing up their properties. The bottom will fall out of the swimming-pool market. The landscape gardening trade will nosedive. 

Who will want to buy a house with a guaranteed umpteen-thousand-quid levy on it? Only the billionaire classes, who couldn’t give a flying toss about a few hundred grand here or there. So how many owners, unable to sell, will busy themselves converting their house into three flats, to evade the tax and make some cash? 

A Lib Dem document tries to justify a mansion tax thus:  “The tax system is unfair. A wealthy person with a property worth £3m pays the same council tax as a family in a home worth a quarter of the price. Our mansion tax will ensure the rich pay their fair share.”

But how much is council tax on the average London house? Somewhere around £1,000 and £1,500? By all means ask owners of pricey homes to pay four times their poorer neighbour’s – £4,000, £5,000. But pay £10,000? Is that a “fair share”?

Cheese and sex go together: you better Brielieve it

I went to the Bath Literary Festival on Monday, under its new editorial director, the sparky Viv Groskop. I was there to interview Jonathan Grimwood (nom de plume of the celebrated cyberpunk writer Jon Courtenay Grimwood) about his mainstream novel The Last Banquet.

We talked about pre-revolutionary France, condoms, Versailles, how the book was written in 12 weeks after gestating for 15 years – we talked about a million things, but the most memorable (for the audience and me) was his contention that “cheese provokes extreme writing”.

In his case it certainly did: a rapturous description of his hero popping a lump of Brie in his mouth while sucking the nipple of a former wet nurse called Manon saw him shortlisted for the Bad Sex Award.

He also brought up Zola’s “cheese symphony” (notably Camembert and Livarot) in The Belly of Paris, and Beckett’s hero Belacqua ordering stinking Gorgonzola in More Pricks Than Kicks, and I mentioned Leopold Bloom’s lunchtime Gorgonzola sandwich in Ulysses, and mentioned Brillat-Savarin’s shocking dictum, “A dinner that ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”

But I still thought Mr Grimwood’s contention was a bit extreme. Bang on cue arrived news of the Swiss Cheese Pervert, a fat bloke called Christopher Pagano from Philadelphia who has been arrested for driving up to strange women and offering them money to watch him putting cheese on his genitalia.

Honestly.  There goes life, imitating literature again.

Hopper’s frozen moments

Nice to see the great Dennis Hopper’s 1960s photographs will be on display at the Royal Academy in the summer. The 400 monochrome pictures were collectively called The Lost Album because they disappeared in 1970 and weren’t found until Hopper’s death in 2010.

When looked at today, they seem to freeze moments of cultural history – like the moment when David Hockney and Andy Warhol were snapped in a doorway in 1963. They  look so young and so studiedly cool.

But it’s Hockney who looks the guy in charge, surly, rebellious, uncompromising;  Warhol, by comparison, looks tentative, shy, uncertain behind  his shades.

You’d almost swear he was thinking: “You know what I must get? I must get me a blond wig, so I can look just like David.” Is this the moment when the famous Andy-at-the-Factory look got under way?   

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map