£100 off your council tax bill - only for volunteers

Community volunteers could be rewarded with money off their council tax - or is it a bribe for do-gooding?

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There could be £100 knocked off the annual council tax bill for community volunteers if a new proposal is taken up by the Coalition. The Local Government Association (LGA) is calling for a £50m fund to offer half a million community volunteers 10% off their council tax - in recognition of their work.

Is this a genuine move to recognise community service? Or is more about getting valued public work to be carried out on the cheap?

'Step up' to save

"We cannot," says LGA chair Councillor David Sparks, "undervalue the contribution made by those who give up their spare time to help a local charity, support the library or provide a meal and a friendly face to an elderly neighbour."

Sparks say the move would help save the public purse many millions more than it costs. "It can help raise the profile of volunteering and encourage a new generation of volunteers to step up."

Some councils already offer discounts for special constables and army reservists. However
Justin Davis Smith, ex chief exec of Volunteering England, claims the move would be riddled with red tape. How do you judge between 'formal' and 'informal' volunteers, for starters?

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Generation Citizen

"What would happen," he writes in his blog, "if a volunteer missed a couple of months' volunteering? Would their council tax rise for that period? And what about quality? Are we to judge an individual's qualification for the rebate solely in terms of their hours, or do we need evidence of impact?"

It's also likely HMRC would also take an interest in the scheme, thereby clipping the amount claimed back. Ethical questions abound: isn't volunteering about something given freely, without strings or cash-back bribes? You volunteer because you want to.

The unions argue such a tax softener could undermine real job creation that pays into the UK tax base; the TUC told AOL Money the proposed tax breaks "sit uneasily with the recent increases in council tax for millions of unemployed and low-paid households, as well as real terms pay cuts for council staff."

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Pothole impact?

Messing with volunteering could also damage its integrity, longer term. There's also concern rebates may mean less spent on basic services - cleaning, parks, repairing potholes.

Local authorities already have the ability to introduce discretionary local discounts, but this has been restricted by Government reductions to council tax support funding, says the LGA.

What do you think? Should community volunteering be rewarded with small tax breaks? Let us know in the comments below.

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