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Council tax up again

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Once more hard-pressed council taxpayers face rises in the new financial year. Mike Collins looks at the prospects

Most local authorities are planning council tax rises of up to 5%, a survey by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found.

The increases – up to two-and-a-half times the current rate of inflation – would add about £60 a year to the average bill, meaning hardship for those like single parents and pensioners already struggling to pay. Research by the GMB union has discovered that 351 councils in England failed to collect £750m in 2004-05.

Only eight councils said that they are not planning to raise their council tax above the rate of inflation, while the remainder said they planned rises between 3% and 5% in order to maintain essential services.

Chairman of the LGA, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, says: “Councils have been championing the interests of local residents and are doing everything in their power to keep council tax as low as possible. But very real difficulties remain.”

These difficulties could involve compulsory redundancies, and service reductions or closures of community facilities. “The outlook is very bleak indeed for some local authorities,” explains Essex-based community worker Peter Price. “Community health projects look very fragile in my area, for example, and any cuts would directly affect the most vulnerable members of society.”

Some commentators believe that council tax is unfair. Joanne Wilson, a parish councillor in Suffolk, says: “Council tax is as inequitable and inefficient as poll tax and the whole system needs to be restructured in my opinion. Too many people struggle to pay it when they should be not paying anything at all – like pensioners and those with long-term disabilities.”

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