Council tax rises revealed

AVERAGE council tax bills across the region will increase from April 1 by nearly twice the rate of inflation, putting more pressure on pensioners and others on fixed incomes who are already struggling with massive hikes in gas and electricity.

By Graham Dines

AVERAGE council tax bills across the region will increase from April 1 by nearly twice the rate of inflation, putting more pressure on pensioners and others on fixed incomes who are already struggling with massive hikes in gas and electricity.

However, the threat of Government capping, the removal of the schools budget from local authorities, and massive cuts in council spending because of reduced Whitehall grants have combined to make this year's tax increases the second lowest for a decade.

An EADT survey in Suffolk and north Essex has revealed that the top increases will be in the seaside retirement communities of Suffolk Coastal, Waveney, and Tendring which account for the highest concentration of pensioners in the entire UK.


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Owners of Band D properties in Suffolk Coastal, which stretches from Felixstowe to Aldeburgh and Walberswick, and in Waveney, which includes Southwold, Halesworth and Kessingland, will have to pay an extra 4.7% for county, district and police bills. Householders in Tendring, which covers Harwich, Dovercourt, Frinton and Clacton, face a total increase of more than 4.3%.

In addition, parish and town councils included in these districts are entitled to levy a precept for local services.

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Essex Police Authority is the only body to raise its spending by more than 5% and could face a capping surcharge by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. If he orders a maximum increase of 5%, all council tax bills in the county will have to be recalculated.

Once again, Ipswich tops the regional league table with a borough council tax of £281.34 making a total Band D tax demand of £1,402.83, an overall combined increase of 4.1%. However, three districts are catching up fast – Colchester residents face a total tax demand this year of £1,285.90, in St Edmundsbury it is £1,283.13 and Maldon £1,281.25. On top of these totals must be added parish or town council precepts which do not apply in Ipswich.

Across the UK, average council tax bills are set to rise by 4.5% to £1,250, according to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Although this year's increase is nearly twice the rate of the current 2.4% inflation rate, it ranks as the second lowest increase of the past decade. Only the 2005/06 increase of 4.0% is lower.

CIPFA says that the biggest factors that have helped to contain the increase in England include the effective removal of the education budget as a burden on the council tax, through the introduction of the dedicated schools grant and the Government's threat to cap councils which raise tax above 5%.

Reg Hartles, Chariman of Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said pensioners would be badly hit by the tax rise. “I just hope that our councils keep the pressure up on the Government to give us a fair share of the money that is available for local government.”

Steve Freer, CIPFA's Chief Executive, said: “These are fascinating results. They show both Government and local authorities working hard to manage and contain local tax increases.

“Increasingly the level at which the Local Government Minister threatens capping intervention – this year a tax increase of more than 5% – appears to be the dominant influence shaping local budgets. In that sense we are back to universal capping.

“Government policy appears to be moving in the direction of greater devolution to local authorities, but in sharp contrast, the central grip on local government funding is tightening.”

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