You too can fiddle with the band

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The Independent Online
TODAY - an expert deals with readers' questions about the newfangled council tax.

I wonder if you could give me some advice? I am a cabinet minister. I live in my own house, which has recently been put into the top band for council tax. At the time the assessment was made, I had a prostitute living in the basement. Shouldn't this have drastically lowered the assessment of the house? As this was the only reason I had the prostitute installed in the first place, and it cost me a good deal of money to get her out afterwards - well, not me personally, but anyway it cost other people a good deal of money - I naturally feel a little aggrieved.

It is certainly worth appealing on these grounds. Failing all that, I enclose a pamphlet entitled 'Getting the Best Deal Out of That Sex Therapist in Your Basement, You Dark Horse, You]'

One is not normally liable to taxes, but it looks as if one shall be made taxable in future, and this might even mean that one might be liable to council tax. By 'one', of course, I mean 'I'. Well, I recently had part of one of my castles burnt down. I don't know much about the market value of castles, but do you think this would mean that I could appeal against the banding for this castle?

When you say that you had part of a castle burnt down recently, do you mean on purpose - for insurance purposes, for instance - or by accident?

By accident, of course, you ninny. Luckily, the castle is still habitable.

I think you mean unluckily. If the whole castle had burnt down and been made uninhabitable, your council tax liability would have been reduced to nil. As it is, I would strongly advise arranging another fire . . .

I live in a cardboard box not far from Waterloo Station - obviously, I cannot give my exact address, as on windy days my abode moves somewhat and therefore cannot be described as fixed. However, I have recently been notified that my rating under the new council tax will be band H, the highest rate. What I want to know is: how can they possibly put a cardboard box in band H?

Under the Tory government, many improvement grants have been made available for dwellers in box buildings. Admittedly, this was basically framed in order to give advantages to the owners of box buildings such as Canary Wharf, but perhaps the council tax people think you too have been in receipt of such a grant. If you haven't got one, I should go for it. It will help in your application if you say that you are a mental patient who has recently gone out into the community but could only find a cardboard box to live in, and that you are thinking of letting the papers know about your case, Mrs Bottomley.

P S - If I have part of my cardboard box burnt down in a dramatic fire, with flames licking out dramatically against the evening sky, do you think the nation will rally round behind me?

No.

I am a defenceless widow living alone with two small children in a small detached house in north London. Recently a gang broke into my house, tied me up and proceeded - without ever consulting my wishes - to build a new wing on my house containing two new bedrooms and three new bathrooms. Before they left, they said to me: 'Now maybe you'll think twice about travelling Virgin Atlantic next time] Just give British Airways a thought, sister] Or we'll have to come back and improve your garage area]' As a result of this unwarranted action my council tax banding is now H instead of the hoped-for F. Can I sue British Airways for the difference?

You mean, can you ask to be downgraded from business class to economy? Hmmm. Well, it's always worth trying . . .

I used to be MP for Bath but am now governor of Hong Kong. This demotion has not depressed me, as I find many interesting challenges in my new job. One of them, curiously enough, came about through my old stewardship of the poll tax back in Britain. When I first arrived in Hong Kong, the Chinese government asked me if I could introduce something similar in the colony. I told them that it could only be arranged if people had the vote. OK, they said, give them a bit of democracy and votes - then we'll move in and soak the suckers for all they're worth]

Very interesting, I'm sure, but what is your question?

My question is:

I'm sorry, that's all we have got time for. More next time. Till then - Ciao]

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