Millions of families face inflation-busting council tax increases just as town halls warn of sweeping cuts to services.
An audit by the Mail has found that local authorities throughout the country are planning to increase bills in April by the maximum allowable amount of 5 per cent.
So far at least 13 English county and unitary councils from North Yorkshire to Gloucestershire have proposed 5 per cent hikes, which in some areas will add £75 to the average Band D household’s bill. For those in the top Band H homes, the increase will be more than £140.
At the same time, council leaders are warning that funding shortages will force them to make drastic cuts to essential services. The Local Government Association says councils will be forced to empty litter bins less often, employ fewer lollipop men and slash bus services because of a ‘black hole’ in their finances.
The warning is unlikely to be well received by householders, with the average annual Band D council tax bill already approaching £1,700.
Durham County Council is among the authorities increasing council tax by the maximum allowed amount in the face of precipitous cuts of the central government grant, and special legal dispensation to increase tax by 5 rather than 3 per cent to pay for adult social care needs
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, criticised town halls for putting up tax as they were cutting services
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, criticised town halls for putting up tax as they were cutting services. ‘Councils always claim they are cut to the bone, but there are still numerous examples of wasteful spending and inefficiencies that still need to be addressed,’ he said. ‘Councillors should remember that council tax is a major burden on residents and a huge contributor to the cost of living, especially for families on lower incomes.
‘Over 2,000 council employees in the country are earning over £100,000 – perhaps they could consider taking a pay cut before cutting essential services that taxpayers are paying for?’
Town halls are not usually allowed to put up council tax by more than 3 per cent a year without holding a local referendum. But in recent years they have been allowed to add an extra amount for social care. Last year the maximum allowed was 2 per cent, meaning this year’s rise can be 5 per cent in total.
All local authorities will decide this month how much to increase their tax by.
The Mail audit has found that several have already done so, with Cambridgeshire, Cheshire West and Chester, County Durham, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, North Yorkshire, Rutland, Warwickshire and West Sussex saying they intend to put up the tax by the maximum amount. This list is expected to significantly increase in the coming days and weeks.
The increase in County Durham will see £75 added to the average Band D bill, while in Cheshire West it will be £72. North Yorkshire warned that on top of putting up its council tax by 5 per cent, there would be £26 million in savings over the next three years.
Several other local authorities have opted for increases of 4 per cent, including Bristol, Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Northumberland, Shropshire, South Tyneside and Suffolk.
Surrey Council will put up council tax by 3 per cent – while axing 31 children’s centres.
Increases are even higher in Wales, where local authorities do not have to hold a local referendum to get large increases through. The increase in Wrexham will be 5.5 per cent – or £77 – for Band D.
Is yours going up?
FIVE PER CENT INCREASES
Cambridgeshire, Cheshire West and Chester, County Durham, Cumbria, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Kent, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, North Yorkshire, Rutland, Warwickshire, West Sussex
FOUR PER CENT INCREASES
Bristol, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Essex, Leicestershire, Northumberland, Shropshire, South Tyneside, Suffolk
In Gloucestershire, the council’s plan for a 5 per cent increase – equivalent to £61 on a Band D bill – did not go down well in the county.
Liberal Democrat councillor Jeremy Hilton said: ‘The council tax rise this year will be double the rate of inflation at 5 per cent, which is an additional burden that will have to be borne by Gloucestershire council tax payers.’
Local Government Association chairman Lord Porter said: ‘If the Government fails to adequately fund local government then it will be our local communities and economies who will suffer.
‘It will be those who rely on vital adult social care to live independent lives, rural bus routes to get out and about, council tax support to ease financial burdens and those who value clean streets, green spaces and roads fit for the purpose.’
In Northamptonshire, whose Tory-run council has massive cash problems, local Lib Dem leader Chris Stanbra said: ‘The whole fiasco could now mean a substantial tax increase for local taxpayers.
‘It gives lie to the line that Conservatives often use that they are good at managing our money.’
In Cheshire West and Chester, run by Labour, Tory leader Lynn Riley said: ‘Taxes are again forced up because the Labour-led council has failed to deliver the targets it set itself.’