It feels somehow crass and inappropriate to write defending one’s own status, and always much easier and appropriate to defend the status of others who are experiencing discrimination. In this case, and especially given the political climate in Wales (where I live), I find myself uncomfortably edged into the first category, and therefore beg the reader’s patience.
There is an additional component to this reluctance. Currently, and mostly due to an unexpected set of personal circumstances, we find ourselves falling into the category of ‘second home owner’. Given the way this matter has played out in the media, and also in the ideological statements and policies of our political leaders, this now feels like admitting to belonging to a banned organisation, to having attended Eton or being a Russian Oligarch.
The second home in question is in West Wales, and we also live in Wales. It is in a location which holds a great deal of meaning to us (my wife’s family, her childhood holidays, our courtship and honeymoon etc), one that we have visited (and stayed in) continuously throughout our marriage. We have friends there, feel part of the community, and as we edge into retirement would wish to live there. At the present moment, a combination of circumstances (family commitments, COVID lockdown, problems with the original build etc) have prevented us from moving there and making it our permanent home. But that is enough to put us on the wrong side of a kind of ideological war that has been brewing for some time against the eponymous ‘second-home owner’, that iniquitous individual who is allegedly making life so difficult for folks who may find it difficult to afford their own home in West Wales.
For quite some time, we have been paying Council Tax at a rate of 150% of what local inhabitants (our neighbours) pay. In April 2022, this increased to 200%. We are informed that in April 2023, it will very likely go up to 300%, and recently I have learned of the threat of an even higher rate. It is worth noting that defenders of these tax increases imply that, just because the devolved Welsh Government has given its permission for the penalising of second-home owners, it is possible that local Councils may choose to forgo the pleasure. In a world inhabited by pink unicorns and the kind of optimism about our institutions that the evidence would bely, that would indeed be a Nice Thing. (Although one wonders about the social benefit of holding such a threat over taxpayers heads, even if some more humane view won out in the end.) The evidence to date is that the enthusiasm for revenue-raising is likely to be the deciding factor.
At the original rate, the increase in overhead was marginally affordable. At the current rate, the tax causes noticeable detriment to our lives. At the predicted 2023 rate, we may have little option but to sell up, and given the Welsh Assembly’s mooted plans for a 400% markup in Council Tax, that may not be easy. All of this is galling, as currently we make zero demands on any services provided by Pembrokeshire County Council, other than breathe the air.
This blog is a reflection on the implications of this kind of treatment.