More than three hundred years ago, King William III introduced a window tax across Great Britain where people were taxed according to the amount of daylight entering their homes. As a result, many windows were bricked up, and remain so to this day, as homeowners fought against what is thought to have inspired the term ‘Daylight Robbery’.
Now in 2016, the Portuguese government has found a new, but arguably similar way of taxing houses, with the amount of exposure to the sun and views, being the cornerstone of a new council tax which it says is aimed at making the country more “socially just”.
According to Law Decree number 41 of 2016, published on Tuesday, a good view and a south-facing house could see homeowners face substantial increases in their council tax bills. Homes with decent views and which maximise solar exposure could be subject to an increase in council tax rates of up to 20 percent.
On the other hand, houses facing cemeteries, which are north-facing or on the bottom floors of an apartment block could see a drop in council tax of up to 10 percent.
Noise pollution will also play a role, but essentially the less light a house receives in the day, the less tax its occupants will have to pay.
State Secretary for Finance Rocha Andrade has said the revision is not to gain additional revenue, but rather to tax people according to the homes and luxuries they enjoy.
“Our objective is firstly to introduce greater fiscal equity”, said Rocha Andrade this week upon the release of details of the new law, adding: “This will allow us to reflect, with greater accuracy, the effective variations in current house prices.”
But there has been strong opposition against the move.
Opposition parties to the right have argued that this is just another form of austerity being imposed on the middle class by the leftist government.
The Association of Lisbon Homeowners (ALP) has also criticised the move, saying the new council tax variations will result in “values that are unbearable.”
In comments to Lusa News Agency, ALP President Luís Menezes Leitão said this is yet another negative surprise by the government, which he accused of targeting homeowners in order to line the depleted coffers of councils across the country.
“This law makes no sense whatsoever. People are paying tax on something that generates no profit. These are people’s homes and many of them could now face not being able to pay these new taxes” argued the ALP President.
He added that homeowners, especially those with large mortgages, did not initially bank on huge increases in council taxes when opting to a buy a home they thought they could afford.
But the tax revision will not be immediate.
The new council tax will only be applied on new homes or when a property is re-evaluated.
In comments to DN/Dinheiro Vivo, a leading property surveyor argued that most homes in Portugal have in recent decades been built to maximise solar exposure for energy reasons.
“Now we are going to be penalised for doing what we thought was the right thing?” João Fonseca questioned.
He further queried the subjectivity of an evaluation, saying two identical properties could be evaluated very differently by two different inspectors, depending on their own personal assessment of how good a view is and how much sunlight the occupants of a house enjoy.
National Homeowners’ Association (ANP) President António Frias Marques also argued that most homes will see their council tax rates increase as a result of the new tax on sunlight.
Councils can order a re-evaluation of a home whenever they deem the taxable value to be out of touch with reality, with the ANP chief predicting inspectors will not take too much time before taking to the streets for widespread assessments in order to increase property values for council tax purposes.