The Commons Levy explained

In order to explain how the Commons Levy works, it's necessary to set the scene with some historical background.

On 11th November 1864, Earl Spencer, Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon, called a meeting of local residents during which he outlined a bill which he intended to present to Parliament for the enclosure of 700 acres of the common as a park, a further two acres as a garden to a new manor house which he intended to build near the site of the windmill, and the sale of the remaining 300 or so acres as building land. The reasons he gave were that the land was "boggy" and "noxious mists and fogs" arose from it and "great nuisance was caused by gypsies" who camped on it. The money raised from the sale of building land would pay for enclosure and improvements.

The majority of those present agreed to the proposal but fortunately the bill was delayed by a select committee which had been set up to inquire into the condition of open spaces around London.  A Wimbledon Common Committee was later set up under the Chairmanship of Sir Henry Peek Bt., MP for Mid-Surrey.

In 1866, a suit of Chancery was commenced against Lord Spencer and after four years of litigation Earl Spencer came to terms with the residents and a new Bill was drawn up. This became the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act which received the Royal Assent in August 1871.

Under the Act, Earl Spencer conveyed his interest in the Commons to a body of Conservators (five elected and three appointed to represent both public and local interests) who were charged with the duty of keeping the Commons open, unenclosed, unbuilt on and their natural aspect preserved. Earl Spencer and his descendants were to be compensated by a perpetual annuity of £1,200, and a rate was to be levied on local residents to keep up these payments and to maintain the Commons. The annuity was finally redeemed in 1968 by a lump sum payment from a redemption fund set up by the Conservators in 1957.

This rate was collected by the Conservators' staff until 1991 when it began to be collected by the three Boroughs in which the Commons fall - Wandsworth, Merton and Kingston - as an addition to the Council Tax. 

How are Levy-payers defined?

If you live within three quarters of a mile of the perimeter of Wimbledon Common, measured by the most direct route along roads or footpaths, or within the old Parish of Putney as it was in 1871 (which now includes much of Roehampton), your property will be subject to an additional Levy on top of any Council Tax. This Levy is collected on behalf of the Conservators by the appropriate local authority – Kingston Upon Thames, Merton or Wandsworth. It is the responsibility of the Council concerned to decide whether to identify the Levy separately on its Council Tax bills.

Who is a Levy-payer?

A Levy-payer is anyone who is responsible for paying the “special-levy” which is added to your properties main Council Tax and your place of residence is three-quarters of a mile from Wimbledon Common, measured by the most direct route to the entrance to your property along roads or footpaths, or anywhere within the old Parish of Putney. The proceeds of the Levy are used solely for the management of Wimbledon and Putney Commons.

What is the Levy-paying area?

A review of the Levy-paying boundary, based upon the above criteria, has been prepared by Ordnance Survey using their digital mapping systems. This map of the boundary of the Levy-paying area is here.

How is the Levy set?

The total Levy is set by the Conservators in accordance with Regulations of 1990 and 1993. In 1990, when new arrangements were set in place following the introduction of the then Community Charge (since replaced by the Council Tax), the Levy was not allowed to exceed £500,000. Subsequently, the Conservators have had the authority to increase the Levy to its maximum in each financial year in line with the Retail Price Index (RPI), as published the previous Septembers. They have not always increased it by as much as they are entitled to, but have been guided by their judgement on what was required to maintain the financial viability of the Commons. The Levy for 2017/18 has been set at its maximum of £1,135,935, which is apportioned according to the council tax base, as notified to the Conservators by the three local authorities.