London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Sewers Rate.
HAVING shown the expenditure of the Commission of Sewers, we now come to consider its income.
The funds available for the sewerage and drainage of the several towns throughout the kingdom, are raised by means of a particular property tax, termed the Sewers Rate. This forms part of what are designated the Taxes of England and Wales.
Local taxes are of classes:—
I. Rates raised upon property in districts, as parishes, jurisdictions, counties, &c.
II. Tolls, dues, and fees charged for particular services on particular occasions, as turnpike tolls, harbour dues, &c., &c.
The rates or sums raised upon the property lying within a certain circumscribed locality, admit of being subdivided into orders—
. The rates of districts, or those which, being required for a particular district (as the parish or some equivalent territorial limit), are not only levied within the bounds of that district, but expended for the purposes of it alone; as is the case with the poor rate.
. The rates of districts, or those which, though required to be expended for the purposes of a given district (such as the county), are raised in detail in the several inferior districts (such as the various parishes) which compose the larger , and which contribute the sums thus levied to common fund; such is the case with the county rate.
But the rates of independent districts may be further distinguished into orders, viz.— i. Those which are levied on the same classes of persons, the same kinds of property, and the same principles of valuation as the poor rate; such are the highway rate, the lighting and watching, and the militia rate among the independent rates; and the police, borough, and county rates among the aggregate rates. ii. Those which are levied on the same basis as the poor rate. The church and sewers rates are familiar instances of this peculiarity.
The sewers rate, then, is a local tax required for an rather than an district, and is levied upon the basis of the poor law.
The assessment of the poor rate, for instance, includes tithes of every kind, that of the sewers rate extends to such tithes only as are in the hands of laymen. Again, the sewers rate embraces some incorporeal hereditaments to which the poor rate does not extend; but stock in trade, which of late years has been specially exempted from the poor rate, was never subject to the sewers rate.
A sewers rate, however, was known as early as the year of Henry VI. (), though "commissions" were not instituted till the time of Henry VIII. The Act which now regulates the collection of the funds required for the cleansing, building, repairs, and improvements of the sewers, is and Vict. (). This statute gives the "Courts" or "Commissions" of Sewers, power "to tax in the gross" in each parish, &c., all lands, &c., within the jurisdiction of such courts, for the requirements of the public sewerage. This impost is not periodically levied, nor at any stated or even regularly recurring term, but "as occasion requires:" perhaps once in or years. It is (with some exceptions, which require no notice) what is commonly called "a landlord's tax" in the metropolis, that is, the sewers-rate collector must be paid by the occupier of the premises, who, on the production of the collector's receipt, can deduct the amount from his rent. If this arrangement were meant to convey a notion to the public that the sewers tax was a tax on property—on the capitalist who owns, and not on the tenant who merely occupies—it is a shallow device, for every must know that the more sewers rate a tenant pays his landlord, the more rent he must pay him.
The sewers rate is levied according to the rateable value put upon property by the surveyors and assessors appointed by the Commissioners, who may make the rate "by such ways and means, and in such manner and form, as to them may seem most convenient." It seems a question yet to be determined whether or not there is a right of appeal against the sewers rate, but the general opinion is that there is The rate can be mortgaged by the Commissioners if an advance of money is considered desirable. The maximum of in the pound on the net annual value of the property was fixed by the Act. The Commissioners have also the power to levy a "special rate" on any district not connected with the general system of sewerage, but which it has been resolved should be so connected; also an "improvement rate." at a maximum of per cent. on the rack rent, "in respect of works they may judge to be of private benefit," a provision which has called forth some comments.
The metropolitan sewers rate is now collected in districts.
There are at present Commissions or Courts of Sewers throughout England and Wales.
The only return which has yet been prepared of the annual amount assessed and collected under the authority of the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, is presented to the in . It includes the sum assessed in of the districts within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Commissioners from to inclusive.
The following amounts were returned to Parliament as that expended in other of the metropolitan districts in the year :—
The districts excluded from the above total are the minor ones of St. Katherine and Greenwich, so that altogether the gross sum levied within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Commissioners must have been between and
The annual amount of the local rates in England and Wales is, according to a work on the subject ("The Local Taxes of the United Kingdom"), published "under the direction of the Poor Law Commissioners" in , In this large sum only the average annual outlay on the districts of the sewers of the metropolis is included (), and it is stated that not even an approximate average could be arrived at as regards the expenditure on sewers in the country districts. Such absence of statistical knowledge, —and it is a want continually observable—is little creditable to the legislative, executive, and administrative powers of the State.
I shall now proceed to show, from the best data at my command, the present outlay on the metropolitan sewers.
According to the present law, the Commissioners are required to submit to Parliament yearly returns of the money collected on account of, and expended in, the sewerage of the metropolis.
I need only state, that in the latest and, indeed, the sole returns upon the subject, the rates in - -, under the former separate commissions, were and in the pound on land, and from (Ranelagh and ) to (Greenwich) on houses.
The rates made under the combined and consolidated Commissions, from , to , were all , excepting the Western division of sewers, which were , and a part of the Surrey and Kent district,
The rates under the present Metropolitan Commission, from , to , are all , with a similar exception in Surrey and Kent. The following are the only further returns bearing immediately on the subject:—
 The following statement may, according to the work above alluded to, be presented as an approximate return of the present annual amount of the local rates in England and Wales. I. RATES. A. RATES OF INDEPENDENT DISTRICTS. 1. On the basis of the poor rate. The poor rate, including the purposes of— The workhouse building rate . The survey and valuation rate . Relief of the poor . . . . . £ 4,976,093 Other objects . . . . . . 567,567 Contributions to county and borough rates (see below). Jail fees rate . . . . . unknown Constables rate . . . . Highway rates. . . . . . 1,312,812 Lighting and watching rate . . . unknown Militia rate . . . . . . not needed 2. Not on the basis of the poor rate. Church rates . . . . . . 506,812 Sewers rate— General sewers tax— In the metropolis . . . . 82,097 In the rest of the country . . . unknown Drainage and inclosure rates . unknown Inclosure rate . . . . Regulated pasture rate . . . B. RATES OF AGGREGATE DISTRICTS. County rates . Contributed from the poor rate. 1,356,457 Hundred rate . Borough rates . ----------- Total rates of England and Wales . £ 8,801,834 The amount of the taxation in the shape of tolls, dues, and fees is as follows:— II. TOLLS, DUES, AND FEES. Turnpike tolls . . . . . £ 1,348,085 Borough tolls and dues . £ 172,911 City of London . . . 205,100 -------- 378,011 Light dues . . . . . . 257,776 Port dues . . . . . . 554,645 Church dues and fees . . . unknown Marriage fees . . . . . Registration fees . . . . Justiciary fees— Clerks of the Peace . . £ 11,057 Justices' clerks . . . 57,668 -------- 68,725 ------------ Total tolls, dues, and fees of England and Wales . . . . £ 2,607,241 The subjoined, then adds the same work, founded on the preceding details, may be regarded as exhibiting an approximate estimate of the present amount of the local taxes in England and Wales, being, however, obviously below the actual total. Rates . . . . . £ 8,801,838 Tolls, dues, and fees . 2,607,241 ---------- £ 11,409,079 "The annual amount of the local taxation of England and Wales may at the present time be stated, in round numbers, at not less than £ 12,000,000;" or we may say that the local taxation of the country is one-fourth of the amount of the general taxation.