Council tax bills set to rise 0.8%

Monopoly housesCouncil tax bills will rise by a below-inflation average of 0.8% across England this year, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced.

But a third of councils have rejected the offer of central Government help to enable them to freeze bills for residents in 2013/14.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said this year's rise amounts to a real-terms cut in council tax, which has fallen by 9.7% in real terms under the coalition Government, once inflation has been taken into account.

Mr Pickles said: "Council tax more than doubled under Labour. But Conservatives in Government have worked to freeze council tax for three years, helping hard-working families and pensioners with their cost of living. Over the last three years, council tax bills have fallen by almost 10%. Ed Miliband's Labour Party opposes freezing council tax, which shows how Labour remain addicted to higher taxes, and are on the side of bureaucracy, wasteful spending and not the taxpayer."

DCLG figures show that the average Band D council tax set by local authorities in England for 2013-14 will be £1,456, up from £1,444 in 2012/13. The average in London will be £1,302, compared with £1,421 in metropolitan areas, £1,486 in unitary authority areas and £1,510 in shire districts. In all, 257 of the 421 eligible English authorities (61%) qualified for a DCLG grant worth 1% of their council tax bills by imposing a freeze or reduction in the charge - down from 90% in 2012/13.

Councils imposing the highest rises for 2013/14 in percentage terms are Conservative-held Breckland in Norfolk (7.6%), North Dorset (4.8%), East Lindsey in Lincolnshire (4.4%) and South Cambridgeshire (4.3%), and Labour-held Exeter (4%). But the largest bills to be landing on Band D doorsteps will be in Rutland (£1,701), Hartlepool (£1,686), Kingston-upon-Thames (£1,683), Newark & Sherwood (£1,657) and Central Bedfordshire (£1,652). And some of the largest percentage rises are to be found in fire and rescue authorities in the West Midlands (10.4%), West Yorkshire (9.5%), Greater Manchester (9.5%), Leicestershire (9.4%), Berkshire (9%), Cambridgeshire (8.35) and Dorset (8.2%).

Authorities increasing their demands by more than 2% are required to hold a referendum to seek public approval, though there is an exemption for any rises which are worth less than £5, which means that big percentage hikes in the fire authorities will not have to be put to a poll. Many councils avoided a referendum by imposing rises of 1.9% or 2% - a practice previously condemned by Mr Pickles as "democracy dodging". Some 131 Conservative councils - around seven out of 10 - are freezing their council tax, compared with 51 Labour - about half - and 10 Liberal Democrat.

Local Government Association chairman Sir Merrick Cockell said local authorities want to keep council tax down, pointing out that "the vast majority" froze bills over the past two years and many have done the same this year. But he added: "The Government's offer to help local authorities freeze council tax is a short-term one which does not address the huge long-term pressures facing councils, including bigger cuts than almost any other part of the public sector and an immediate and growing crisis in funding care for the elderly. Government has cut council funding by 33% and, with last week's Budget signalling further cuts to come, local authorities have to consider the impact this will have on local services and the people who rely on them."

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn said: "Local councils have of course done their best to freeze council tax where they can, given the squeeze on family incomes. But it is astonishing that Eric Pickles is trying to claim a success when over two million people on the very lowest incomes won't be getting their council tax frozen. Instead they will see their council tax rise next month because of his new unfair poll tax. They will be hit by the cuts in council tax benefit that he is imposing, while at the same time David Cameron is giving a tax cut to millionaires."

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Rises in council tax are the last thing families need after the last decade of hikes in a tax that hits those on low and moderate incomes the hardest. At a time when household budgets are being squeezed by stagnant wages and rising prices, councils have a duty to ease the burden they place on residents. While many have chosen to freeze council tax and some have even cut it, those town halls pushing ahead with tax hikes should think again and follow the example of those authorities which have kept bills low while maintaining high quality services."

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