Council's anger at US tax 'burden'

PEOPLE living in west Suffolk whose council tax bills have spiralled 50% in the past five years are being “unfairly” burdened by having to meet the costs of providing services to American families, it has been claimed.

PEOPLE living in west Suffolk whose council tax bills have spiralled 50% in the past five years are being “unfairly” burdened by having to meet the costs of providing services to American families, it has been claimed.

Under an agreement between the British and American Governments, US service personnel and their families do not have to pay council tax, even if they live off-base.

Each year the UK Government gives district councils formula grants that are meant to cover the costs of supplying vital services to homes exempt from paying tax.

In Forest Heath, there are 4,321 properties whose owners are exempt from paying council tax under these rules.


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But the district council claims the amount it currently receives from the Government - £5,314,000 for 2006-7 - does not include off-base personnel and is also based on incorrect population figures.

Attempts by the council to get detailed information from the Government as to exactly what portion of the formula grant is meant to cover American military exemptions have failed.

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And, when the EADT asked the Government for details about the amount given to cover US military tax exemptions, a spokesman said it was “not possible” to give a figure.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of The Taxpayers' Alliance, yesterday said: “It's totally unfair that local residents have to shoulder a disproportionately high council tax to cover their US neighbours.

“The formula grant should fully cover the cost of military personnel and the Government should accept the council's population figures. Residents deserve a fair deal and the Government shouldn't dodge the cost of their foreign policy agreements.”

Figures released by the district council show it gets just 14% of the amount it would expect from a non-exempt property to pay for council services supplied to American personnel.

The council claimed the Government had not included the off-base personnel in its formula grant and has got the population of Forest Heath wrong - a claim apparently backed up by revised population estimates released last week that sets the numbers of people in the district at 63,100 rather than the previous Census figure of 59,100. Council tax for a Band D property in Forest Heath is currently £1,302.71.

A spokeswoman for Forest Heath District Council said: “We believe our grant was based on incorrect figures. Our central Government grant includes an element of money in recognition of the exemptions. “But (for American personnel) we get only about 14% of the sum that a non-exempt resident would pay because the Government says visiting forces do not use all the services - schools, leisure facilities etc.”

Geoffrey Jaggard, Leader of Forest Heath District Council, said: “This is a very important, but a very complicated issue. While visiting forces do not pay council tax in the same way that British residents do, Forest Heath District Council is compensated by an arrangement between the British and American governments through central government grant payments.”

A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said: “Forest Heath's formula grant is not hypothecated and is not divided into separate pots, so it is not possible to identify a specific element that covers council tax for US air force personnel.”

A spokeswoman for the USAF at RAF Mildenhall said the base was unable to comment on the matter as it was something agreed at Government level.

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