Something folks may have missed, what with it appearing on Christmas Eve. I’m not actually sure how much of it is news — the fact of the penalty charges was certainly known several months ago, but their severity may not previously been published.
Anyway, The Sunday Telegraph reported, of written replies published in the previous few weeks,
A draconian regime of fines, which would hit families at times of marriage and death, is being drawn up by ministers to enforce the Identity Card scheme.
Millions of people, from struggling students to newly-wed women and bereaved relatives, will face a system of penalties, netting more than £40 million for the Treasury.
People would be fined up to £1,000 for failing to return a dead relative’s ID card, while women who marry will have to pay at least £30 for a new card if they want to use their married name, risking a £1,000 fine if they do not comply.
Pace David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, who said
It is shocking that the Government is considering charges and fines on people at some of the most sensitive times in life,
I don’t see this as too great a problem; speaking as someone who’s twice had to register a death — which is a legal obligation — I don’t think I’d have found it any more onerous or distressing to have had to take my father’s or my wife’s ID card along with me to the Registrar’s office for cancellation. Indeed, if this had enabled the Registrar to notify the (what seems like dozens of) other government departments who want to know when someone’s died, it might well have been advantageous. If you’re going to make it a requirement to hand the things in, then the requirement has to be enforceable and, so long as it’s applied sensitively, I can’t see a huge problem.
However, the other charges look a tad worrying.
Joan Ryan, the Home Office minister, said that charges would apply “if a person wished to add a married surname to his or her register entry”. Based on an estimate of 311,000 marriages a year, that would net up to £9 million a year for the Exchequer.
People would be charged at least £30 for lost or stolen cards. Based on the 930,000 driving licences lost or stolen each year, this would earn the Treasury more than £28 million a year, say the Tories.
Quite why it’s necessary to levy a tax on married women using their husband’s surname, I do not know; as I recall, when we got married my wife just informed the relevant people — bank, Inland Revenue and so forth — that she now had a new surname; I think she had to produce a copy of the marriage certificate a couple of times, but that was it. Yet another example, it seems to me, of introducing an expensive solution to a non-existent problem; since her existing bank, Lloyds, were perfectly happy to take her word for it that she’d got married and cheques in her new name should be paid into her account until the Fraud Squad said otherwise, I don’t see why ID cards have to come into it.
In another cause for concern, students are apparently going to have to record all their addresses — term-time as well as home address — or face a £1,000 fine. Given the forgetfulness of many students and the way they tend to move around, at least in London, I foresee problems ahead.
Indeed, as I recall, one of the many problems that faced the Poll Tax was that no one had really appreciated how often people — young people, certainly — tend to move house. A friend of mine, then in her late 20s, was perfectly prepared to register for the Poll Tax, at least initially. Then she split up with her boyfriend and moved back in with her parents, in another borough, for a month or so. Then she found a flat-share (another borough) which didn’t go too well, so she moved to another flat-share (and borough) three months after that. Then she changed jobs and moved into my spare room (another borough) to be closer to work while she looked for more permanent accommodation (yet another borough).
At some point in all this bouncing around between Bromley, Westminster, Camden and Islington she got tired of trying to keep up with the paperwork and just gave up being registered. OK, that was an unusual year for her, but it’s hardly an unusual series of peregrinations on a few occasions in most people’s lives. Doubtless we’ll be assured that the system will be able to cope, but do we believe it? That’s the question.
Most sinister of all is the revelation that
all fees and fines will be paid directly into the Treasury’s central funds for general spending and not go towards running the scheme
I really think this is going to turn into a plastic poll tax if they’re crazy enough to go ahead with it.