Jan 19 2011 by Johnathon Menzies, Stirling Observer Wednesday
CONCERNED Bridge of Allan residents could be facing a battle to stay in their homes after their council tax was doubled with less than a week’s notice.
A group of five houses on Inverallan Road have been switched from Band A to E following an error by the authorities dating back to 1993.
Homeowner Wilma Speedie said the bombshell she received from the Scottish Assessors’ Association (SAA), which came into force six days after receiving a letter on November 25, has seen her weekly payments rise from £23 to £56.
The properties were underpinned 19 years ago as they sit on the site of an old gas works, a move which saw them included in the lower category when the revised council tax charge was introduced across the country 12 months later.
But a recent private sale of a nearby dwelling, for £185,000, alerted banding bosses to the fact they were entitled to sanction the hike – bringing Mrs Speedie and her neighbours in line with others in close proximity – and the fact the reduction should have never taken place to begin with.
Wilma, who purchased her house two years ago, said: “We’ve got no choice, we’ve got to pay the increase otherwise we’ll end up being in arrears.
“There are people in the street who’ve told me they’re in danger of losing their house because they can’t afford to pay.
“We’ve asked for an appeal but I’ve been told that won’t be heard until June.
“It’s been a very distressing time for us, especially when you consider there’s a freeze on council tax across the country at the moment.”
Neighbour Paul Murro summed up the feeling in the street, stressing: “I think everyone would be quite happy to move up one council tax band, or maybe even two, but to have our rates doubled is excessive.
“When we met with the assessors last week one of the first things they said was ‘I know this isn’t a very good Christmas present’.
“We’ve been put into this situation through no fault of our own, and for them to have that attitude – to me, anyway – just isn’t on.”
Councillor Callum Campbell, who represents Dunblane and Bridge of Allan, pledged to take up the shocked community’s concerns and met with them on a number of occasions.
Councillor Campbell, the Conservative candidate for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane constituency in May’s Scottish Parliament elections, added: “The whole situation just doesn’t make sense to me.
“It would be interesting to find out just how many people are affected by this because it may be the case that some people have decided to pay it without challenging it.
“The change seems unreasonable. Realistically, it could cause financial difficulties for some people.”
Assessor Brian Byrne, who is based at the SAA’s local branch on Stirling’s Laurelhill Business Park, said those in Inverallan Road were entitled to an independent appeal.
“Once we learned of the error we looked at the situation, but we were left with no choice as we were wrong to place the properties in Band A in 1993,” he said.
“We had to do it to be fair to everyone else, it wouldn’t have been right to allow things to continue as they were.
“They were initially reduced from a Band E to A in 1993 because of the subsidence issue the particular properties have.
“But, our rules state that when we’re carrying an assessment we have to assume that a property is in a reasonable state of repair.
“This means they should have been in Band E all along. We have to class something like subsidence as repairable.
“We sent two members of staff to meet with the residents last week, to explain what was going on.
“Some of the residents have already appealed the decision, and the rest of them are perfectly within their rights to do so until six months after the change came into force.’’