90% of English local authorities increasing council tax

Updated: 

Nine out of 10 local authorities in England are increasing their level of council tax from April, a new survey has found.

Residents in some areas will see their bills rise by as much as 5%, as councils take full advantage of new powers to top up their charges with money ring-fenced for social care.

Only 22 councils are freezing council tax in 2017/18, while just one - East Hampshire - has said it is cutting the amount.

The figures have been compiled by the Press Association from all 353 local authorities in England.

They show a 180 degree turnaround from 2012/13, when nine out of 10 authorities froze or cut council tax and just 35 raised it.

The Local Government Association said the findings suggested councils had found themselves "unable to turn down the chance to raise desperately-needed money for local services" and warned increases were unlikely to prevent further cutbacks.

But the Department for Communities and Local Government said councils had "almost £200 billion available to them over four years" and should be working to deliver "sensible savings to protect front line services and keep bills down."

 The survey also found that:

:: Of the 152 local authorities able to raise bills by up to an extra 3% to fund social care, more than two thirds are implementing the full amount.

:: A total of 73 of these councils are also raising basic council tax by a maximum of 1.99%, making for a total increase of 4.99%.

:: Breckland council in Norfolk reported the highest percentage rise (6.6%), but said it had the lowest level of tax in England.

Ferris Cowper, leader of East Hampshire council said he hoped it would encourage other councils to "think completely outside the box" and proved "there is a completely different way of running the public sector".

He said East Hampshire had been able to make savings in part by making large investments in commercial property.

Among the 22 local authorities to buck the national trend and not raise their portion of council tax is Wyre Forest council, in Worcestershire.

Leader Marcus Hart said putting up council tax should be a "last resort". He said he had been able to freeze the tax because of increasing other fees and charges, including ones for car parking, bulky waste collections and cutting trees down. 

"Our narrative is, broadly, council tax payers - we won't just be using you by putting up council tax just to subsidise other services," he said. 

Not enough provision in local communities for the care of elderly residents is one of the causes of so-called "bed-blocking" in NHS hospitals, which has been at record levels this winter.

This is the first time that certain councils have been able to add 3% to bills for social care - last year the maximum was 2%.

Tim Roache, general secretary of the public sector GMB union, called the levy "a sticking plaster on a gaping wound".

He added: "That almost every local authority is being forced to raise council tax to meet the even the basic needs of communities up and down the country shows just how far the Government have gone in abdicating responsibility for public services."

A Local Government Information Unit survey earlier this year in England and Wales showed that adult social care was the top priority for councils, but 91% of the 131 councils asked felt tax rises were not a viable way to address the funding gap.

However the think tank's chief executive Jonathan Carr-West said, anecdotally, he was not aware of any "mass public revolt" over the levy. 

He said ring-fencing money for a particular service means people "can see what it's for. So transparency is really important".

It allows councils to say to residents "'this is what we need the money for, this is what we are going to do with it', and people can have a more mature conversation about it," he said.

Earlier this year a major row was sparked over the Conservative-run Surrey council, which was threatening to hold a referendum on whether to increase council tax by 15%.

Surrey dropped the plan in February, prompting questions over whether the council had been offered a "sweetheart deal".

:: The Press Association compiled the survey using information sourced from all 353 local authorities in England and which was correct at the time of publication.