Council tax holiday: Huge pressure mounts for freeze on levy, two weeks after rates hiked
They are calling for a temporary nationwide halt on payments to ease the financial burden for hard-pressed households. A three-month “council tax holiday” would give people a short-term reprieve on their outgoings at a time when millions of jobs are under threat and businesses are battling to stay afloat, they argue.
Taxpayers would then catch up with the payments within the current financial year, limiting the impact on council funds.
The demand comes just two weeks after Town Halls hiked rates by an inflation-busting 3.9 per cent.
Last month the government unveiled a £500 million Hardship Fund to provide support to those who need it most during the outbreak, reducing the bills of everyone who is eligible by £150 a year.
But campaigners say this measure doesn’t go far enough and that the onus should be on councils and local authorities to protect communities by freezing the tax, which for some households can be in excess of £2,000 a year.
The Taxpayers Alliance grassroots campaign group were last night leading calls for Town Halls to shape up and help out hard-pressed taxpayers.
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Sam Packer, the TPA’s media campaign manager, said: “For taxpayers dealing with the enormous impact of the coronavirus on their everyday lives, this is a tough time.
It is made tougher by the fact that this month, council tax is being raised for every single ratepayer in Britain.
“It is an enormous burden on the shoulders of a public weighed down by worry.”
He added: “Before coronavirus, council tax increases would have been a struggle for millions. But the crisis means that they are now categorically unaffordable, which is why we have called for councils to freeze the tax nationwide.”
Conservative MP James Daly has been demanding a council tax freeze in his Bury North constituency but the demands have fallen on deaf ears.
He said: “I first asked for a three month freeze and then one for two months but they refused, saying it would impact on their cash flow.
“I just don’t think it’s beyond the realms of impossibility that in these difficult times councils across the country can’t help communities get through this by freezing it and people can pay it at later time. The money can still be repaid in this financial year so the councils won’t lose out at all. This is a perfectly sensible way to help people who are struggling in the communities they represent.”
Mr Daly said that the current health crisis would “bring into sharp focus” what local authorities actually stand for.
“This is a time for councils to think about what they exist for – supporting local people, keeping business in place and running efficient public services.”
Council tax bills were put up on April 1 at a time when the country was already in the merciless grip of coronavirus.
Bills will increase by 3.9 per cent on average, equivalent to £68 on the average Band D bill or £136 on the top Band H bill.
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In 36 districts across the country, the Band D bill now exceeds £2,000.
Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick said in December that all councils would be able to put up bills by 2 per cent without holding a local referendum. On top of this, those with responsibility for social care were given the go ahead to add a further 2 per cent.
The highest council tax bills are in the tiny county of Rutland, where Band D households will pay £2,125 a year or £177 a month. Those in Band H homes will pay £4,250. Next are Nottingham and Dorset, both on £2,119, followed by Lewes in East Sussex on £2,111.
Council tax bills are sent out by district authorities, and include precepts for county councils, fire brigades and police forces. Some people will face even higher bills if they have parish councils in their area.
The huge increase in Warwick is because of the district council’s bid to put up its share of the bill by 34 per cent to tackle climate change.
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association said: “All councils are putting in place measures to help residents who are facing financial hardship as a consequence of the virus.
“Some have delayed taking council tax payments for the first two months of the year rather than the last. Most councils have also suspended recovery action for people with existing arrears.
“Local government continues to step up to this unprecedented challenge but it will be stretched to the maximum.
“Many councils are facing increased cost and demand pressures. This is at the same time as they will experience a significant drop in income from fees and charges.
“They will need further resources and flexibilities from the Government to sustain them through the whole of this crisis and help them prepare for life after it.”
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