“Boom in council ‘stealth’ taxes for waste removal and funeral services”

“Families have been hit by a huge rise in local “stealth” taxes over the past decade as councils introduce garden and bulky waste removal charges and raise the cost of funeral services, pest control and even public lavatories.

Analysis by The Times of council accounts shows that revenue from environmental, regulatory and planning charges has increased by almost 50 per cent to £2.3 billion since 2009.

Last year, revenue from these charges increased by more than two and a half times the rate of inflation as councils scrambled to raise cash after ten years of austerity. This means every home in England is now paying an average of more than £100 a year in council charges on top of their average council tax bill of £1,671.”

Source: Times (pay wall)

EDDC had record income from parking at time Leader wanted to increase charges

Motorists all over East Devon are paying for refuse collection, council tax payers throughout East Devon will pay extra if there is no hotel in Exmouth … where will it end?

“The 2018/19 figures from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show a record return for the council since comparable records began in 2008/9.

A consultation has been carried out, by the council, on plans to raise hourly parking charges from £1 to £1.20. The leader of the council, Ben Ingham, has said any increases will not come into force until 2021.

A spokesman for East Devon District Council said: “East Devon District Council owns 57 car parks that currently contribute around £2.4million which is used to provide a range of essential council services including, for example, our recycling and refuse collection contract. …”


“For England’s new councillors, the reality of life in our boroughs will hit hard”

“Optimism will be short-lived among the 1,560-plus new councillors – Liberal Democrats, independents, Greens – elected last week in the cities and shires of England, where countless councils changed hands.

These newcomers may have worthy ambitions to transform their councils. But reality kicked in on Tuesday. Entering town halls for briefings, one issue became clear: there’s barely any money left to fund even adult and children’s care, which swallows the majority of cash – let alone keep the rapidly shrinking library service running, the leisure and swimming pool afloat, parks and highways maintained.

Countless warnings from respected organisations, notably the government’s own spending watchdog, have gone unheeded by the government. Last year, the National Audit Office cautioned that council financing is unsustainable and that 10% of the larger councils could have exhausted their reserves – which prop up social care – within three years.

It gets worse. The Commons public accounts committee said recently that the government is in denial about a crisis in which councils are overspending alarmingly on social care, while some are courting “greater risks” through property speculation. …

How did we land in this mess? Look no further than George Osborne, the former chancellor, whose parting gift was a wheeze to make English councils almost self-sufficient by slashing central government grants while handing back control of most business rates. Until Osborne’s intervention, rates had been collected centrally, then redistributed relatively equitably, since 1993.

In 2016, the government initiated a “fair funding review” to work out how Osborne’s reforms might be implemented – and it’s turning out to be anything but fair. Why? Because ministers are taking little account of need and deprivation in poorer areas, with a £7.8bn funding gap emerging overall in council finances. Up to now, these areas have been compensated to take account of low tax bases because they have few expensive houses which deliver higher council tax receipts. Furthermore, business rates from run-down high streets generate a pittance in poorer areas compared with thriving city centres in London and elsewhere. No matter: for this lot, inequity is compounding denial.

Something has to give in a system where almost 60% of council spending now goes on adult and children’s social care – although, overall, social care spending is still falling. Everyone in Whitehall and town halls knows that the social care system is in freefall. A review of how it should be funded – locally, or nationally – is promised. So why introduce a new funding system for local government while its largest single service is awaiting a review?

True, some councils – sometimes smaller districts, with no social care responsibility – are plugging gaps in their finances by morphing into de facto property developers, borrowing heavily to buy shopping and office centres to deliver an annual income. In 2017-18 alone, councils spent £4bn on commercial property, in spite of NAO warnings that finances could be “strained” in the event of a downturn.

But radical action is needed. Rob Whiteman, head of the public sector accountants body Cipfa, argues that authorities should have the power to set council tax rates locally, based on up-to-date property values. His call should not go unheeded.”


A correspondent explains why he won’t be voting Conservative on Thursday

Unless your readers live in a new house on an estate they will have little understanding of what happens today.

I moved onto a new estate which had a grassed open area. I was aware that there was some infrastructure to prevent flooding beneath it and knew that I would have to pay a share of the upkeep. I did not fully understand was that it was a public open space which was available for anyone’s use, not just the residents on the estate.

Maintenance charges have rocketed whilst quality of service has been poor. Any talk of with holding service charge payments is referred promptly to debt recovery. The whole system is unregulated and frankly, stinks.

I have dug deep to try to understand how a simple purchase of a freehold house is suddenly caught up in a land charge where I am compelled to pay for maintenance of land owned by someone else.

The root cause of the problem seems to have started with the council. In this case EDDC. As part of the planning condition for the estate the developer had to provide a public open space and a SUDS system to prevent flooding. In all probability it was an attempt by the council to stick their fingers up at the developers and force them to provide facilities for public benefit at no cost to the local authority.

The next stage was to make the developers responsible for the maintenance of the new open spaces. They could either do that themselves or pay a lump sum to the council to maintain it for the next 25years. Clearly the developers were unable to afford that so they passed the maintenance charges on to the residents within the title deeds for each house.

That was very unpopular and most developers, wanting to distance themselves from the problem, gave the piece of public land to a land management company. It seems that none of those companies are regulated and can charge what they like. If you don’t pay their bill they could apparently seize your house. All quite outrageous.

There has been lots of bad press about these land management companies and the matter discussed in Whitehall although the housing minister has taken little interest.

In East Devon our Conservative council has decided to stick their nose in the trough and has decided to offer to take over the public open spaces at Cranbrook and offer to carry out the maintenance of the public open spaces and charge F band houses £370 per annum and H band houses £512 per annum. Both of those figures are in addition to the normal council tax which is supposed to cover supply and maintenance of public open spaces !!

So lets look at this…. EDDC created the problem by insisting that the developer provide the public open spaces which the council had no intention of maintaining. When it all starts to go wrong EDDC offer to take the responsibility over but only by penalising the residents who live on those estates.

To make it clear those public open spaces are available for use by anyone. So maintenance of those public open spaces should be maintained at public expense. The costs must be paid out of council tax revenue.

This mess has been created by EDDC who enjoy a massive Conservative majority. Any proposals are just nodded through without opposition.

I have always voted Conservative in the past but things have got out of hand. Things must change. The public has a chance to voice their opinion in the local elections on 2nd May.

I know I won’t be for any Conservative Councillor and no, it’s got nothing to to with Brexit….”

“Demand made for more police in East Devon after council tax hike”

Owl cannot understand how East Devon Tory councillors, who have voted time and time again for austerity, who have preened themselves for having one of the lowest council tax rates in the country, and instituted savage cuts can act surprised when they get less for more!

And don’t forget every time there is a vote in Parliament to cut anything – our two MPs vote for those same cuts – unless they affect their salaries or tax breaks for the rich or farming, of course in which case they fight tooth and nail for them!

“Give us more police’, East Devon councillors have demanded, to help tackle increasing incidents of disorder in the region.

Wednesday night’s full council meeting saw councillors agreed to write to the Chief Constable for Devon and Cornwall Police to recognise the needs of East Devon when deciding how to allocate extra resources after the council tax rise will enable 85 new officers to be recruited.

Councillors demanded that extra police be provided to the region, particularly in light of the number of PCSOs being cut from the current 196 to 150.

It comes after the Police and Crime Panel chose not to exercise their veto on Alison Hernandez’s proposals that would see council tax rise for £24 a year for the average Band D council tax payer.

Cllr Tom Wright, who proposed the motion, said that over the last two years, the increase on tax payers is 20 per cent, so residents should expect to see a significant improvement in the service.

“As East Devon residents are the biggest contributors to the police budget in Devon, other than Plymouth, it is only fair that we should get a fair share of the larger cake.

“The increase for this year that the police are getting from us is an extra £1.5m and for that we should get more police on the streets.”

Cllr Alan Dent added: “PCSOs can nip in the bud problems that can arise.”

He gave the example of a problem of people coming from North Devon to Budleigh Salterton to do wheelies in the car park.

Cllr Dent said: “They were zooming around across the car park. I got cross and took pictures of them. They gave me an earful, but I gave the pictures to our PCSOS, and in 24 hours it was dealt with and we never saw them again.”

He said that there was another incident where garden furniture was stolen from a show house. Cllr Dent again took photographs of the perpetrators, gave them to the PCSO, who said ‘I know who they are and will have a word with their parents.’

“That is the value of PCSOs and why we need them in the community,” he added.

Cllr Brian Bailey said that PCSOs stop people going down into the depth of drink and drugs. He added: “Extra funding mean officers can go into schools and educate people and get them on the right track.”

He said that there was another incident where garden furniture was stolen from a show house. Cllr Dent again took photographs of the perpetrators, gave them to the PCSO, who said ‘I know who they are and will have a word with their parents.’

“That is the value of PCSOs and why we need them in the community,” he added.

Cllr Brian Bailey said that PCSOs stop people going down into the depth of drink and drugs. He added: “Extra funding mean officers can go into schools and educate people and get them on the right track.”

And Cllr Eileen Wragg said that extra police would help tackle the ‘proliferation in drug use in Exmouth which is harming our youngsters, and has even resulted in the death of some of them’.

The motion, calling for the chief constable to recognise the needs of East Devon when deciding how to allocate extra resources, received almost unanimous support from the council, with only Cllr Megan Armstrong abstaining.”


Sunday Times: “Council stings residents of Cranbrook for ‘new town tax’ of £370 a year”

Owl says: they don’t mention the district heating system – which keeps residents tied to one supplier – E.on – for 80 (yes EIGHTY years)!

“Local authorities and developers are charging for supplying services in new towns that are free to other homeowners.

Residents of a new town in Devon are being charged an extra £370 a year in council tax in a practice — already being called “the new town tax” — that could spread across the country.

Cranbrook, a new town to the east of Exeter, is charging band F properties a £370 surcharge, rising to £512 for band H properties. Residents receive no more services than people elsewhere in Devon.

Mark Williams, chief executive of East Devon district council, said: “It is very likely that other towns not just in East Devon but elsewhere will have to adopt a similar approach if they wish to maintain their local assets or facilities.

“We believe that the approach adopted by Cranbrook town council is likely to be replicated across the country, especially in areas where there are areas of significant new housing.”

Cranbrook, whose population will eventually exceed 25,000 people, was managed by developers who levied an “estate rent charge” on residents.

The charge was a contribution for the upkeep of facilities such as landscaped gardens and bin collections. When the town council took over responsibility for the services, it kept most of the charge as an addition to the council tax.

Activist groups have sprung up to help residents nationally who have moved into new homes only to discover they are at the mercy of developers on service costs for green spaces or parking. Developers can levy fees because local authorities are not obliged to “adopt” new housing and provide the services.

Cathy Priestley of Homeowners Rights Network, a pressure group, has been contacted by people from 457 new estates housing 86,000 residents with fees ranging from £100 to more than £700 a year. The developers include Bovis, Linden, Persimmon, Redrow and Taylor Wimpey.

She said: “Buyers are lumbered with hidden estate taxes no matter who collects them or who is to blame for this set-up. Stop the rot! Adopt the lot!”

The prospect of permanent higher council taxes for buyers of homes on greenfield sites will be controversial. The government is supporting a housebuilding drive intended to benefit younger people and the “squeezed middle”.

Kevin Blakey, chairman of Cranbrook council, justified the council tax surcharge by saying a lot of people “simply couldn’t afford” to pay the developer’s flat-rate service charge “and the collection rates were going to be pretty awful”.

He added: “There are no council houses but 40% of the first phase of development was given over to social housing managed by housing associations. These charges [were] being applied to people in East Devon who are probably least able to afford it.”

Blakey said that even though the town council would provide services more efficiently than the developers, the charges reflected the cost of maintaining trees and green spaces, including a country park, insisted on by the district council. The residents have to meet the costs even though it is open to everyone. “Our arguments have fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

Williams said: “There are no rules. The government has allowed developers to pass their obligations directly onto new home owners and the ability to remedy the situation lies with the government. This is a national issue.”

Source: Sunday Times (paywall)

“Local authorities forced to cut council tax support sees surge in unpaid tax bills” (well, duh!)

“Around 90% of English councils have been forced cut council tax support for working age claimants, meaning many low-income households have fallen behind with their council tax bills, according to new research.

A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has highlighted the impact of the government’s decision to abolish the centralised council tax support (CTS) for low-income households in 2013, which has seen an extra 1.3 million working-age households sent a council tax bill.

Nearly five million households received localised tax support in 2017-18, costing local authorities a total of £4.1bn – and 2.4 million working-age people received support, with an average benefit of £770 per year.
But the IFS has estimated that councils have failed to collect one-quarter of the extra council tax that low-income households have been billed as a result of the funding cuts.

This explosion of unpaid council tax is around 10 times higher than the 2.5% of council tax uncollected by local authorities under the old CTS system.

CTS schemes have also continued to become less generous since they have suffered funding cuts and were brought under local council control – and the report reveals that low-income households in poor parts of England are more likely to have been affected than those in affluent areas.

Director of welfare at the Nuffield Foundation, Mark Franks, said: “The fact that local authorities are unable to collect around one quarter of the additional council tax they have asked for indicates that support schemes are not working as effectively as they could.

“This important research should help in reviewing the design of council tax support schemes and the benchmarks they are based on.”

The report stated that giving people an entirely new bill is what seems so problematic with this type of tax collection.

Thomas Pope, one of the authors of the report and an IFS researcher, commented: “Many low-income households do not pay this new bill, almost regardless of its size. From their point of view, these changes have clearly increased problems with council tax arrears.

“From councils’ point of view, they are likely to receive significantly more council tax if they increase bills for those already paying some council tax than if they try to raise the same extra money from those who currently have no bill to pay.”


Bankrupt Tory council gets special treatment and audit bill balloons

Owl wonders how it would have been treated if it had not been a Tory council …

Its audit bill has ballooned:

“In its final audit report released this week, auditor KPMG said delays have been caused by the slow and patchy provision of information by the council and departures of key staff at the authority.

The extra work caused by the delays would more than quadruple its original fee of £71,250, it said.

The report said: “We stated during the audit committee on 26 November 2018 that this had now risen, at that date, to approximately £300,000 in total (i.e. including original scale fee).”



It is being allowed to raise an extra 2% on council tax without the (legal) need to hold a referendum:

“The council had already proposed raising council tax by 2.99%, the maximum amount it could do before holding a local vote.

The final settlement stated: “For 2019-20, the relevant basic amount of council tax of Northamptonshire County Council is excessive if the authority’s relevant basic amount of council tax for 2019-20 is 5% or more than 5% greater than its relevant basic amount of council tax for 2018-19”. …

When classified as “excessive”, a local authority must hold a referendum on its proposed tax hike.

In November, in a bending of the rules by the government, Northamptonshire was given permission to use £70m of capital receipts to help balance its budget.

The final statement otherwise largely confirmed what was contained in the earlier provisional settlement in December, with core spending power rising by 2.8% in cash terms from £45.1bn in 2018-19 to £46.4bn in 2019-20.

In real terms this is almost a freeze.”


Council tax, stamp duty or a home value tax?

“COUNCIL tax and stamp duty should be scrapped and replaced by a new annual levy based on the value of people’s homes, a powerful think tank has said.

The radical plans put forward by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) would see households pay yearly property taxes based on the current market price of their home.

It argued the move would help reduce wealth inequality between those who own a home and those who don’t.

The think tank claimed housing is currently “undertaxed” relative to other assets, distorting investment behaviour and contributing to inequality between homeowners and renters.

A property tax rate of 0.5 per cent would mean an annual tax bill of £1,243 for the owner of an averagely priced UK home valued at £248,611, the IPPR said.

The think tank claimed if the new property tax was set at 0.5 per cent it would raise at least as much as current council taxes. …

Carys Roberts, senior economist at IPPR, said: “Council tax is a regressive tax as it falls disproportionately on those with lower incomes and wealth.

“It’s also outdated, as it’s based on valuations that have not been updated since 1992.

“A new new property tax would be far more progressive, and would effectively capture increases in house prices in a way the current system does not.”

Property owners have seen their wealth and income grow, while rising numbers are locked out of home ownership and must pay increasingly high rents, according to the IPPR.”


“Somerset [Tories] blames ‘broken’ [Tory] funding system for major cuts”

Too little too late, councillors. You froze your council tax and submitted yourselves willingly (nay, enthusiastically) to austerity – now reap your “reward”. Or rather cause your voters to suffer for your blind adherence over these years to the party line.

“Youth services, learning disability support and reserves contributions will be hit under new plans approved by the council.

Savings of £13m over the remainder of this financial year and £15m in total in 2019-20 are expected to be made through the plans, ratified by the council last Monday.

The young carers service was the only area given a ‘stay of execution’ while the council discusses with the carers and the families where else they could get support, such as voluntary groups. This service could still be cut.

Council leader David Fothergill said: “This is not the biggest set of savings Somerset has faced. But it is absolutely the most difficult set of decisions we have had to consider.”

He added: “The government model for funding local authorities is broken.

“Rural councils like ours don’t get the funding they need or deserve.

“I have taken every opportunity to lobby and fight to address this, but there has been no extra funding. That is hugely disappointing.”

The council also wants to make savings in areas including winter gritting, park and ride services and funding to Citizens Advice Bureau services.

Fothergill said he would be writing to the secretary of state to ask for help before the next budget.

As reported by PF in July, the council ruled out issuing a Section 114 notice, as Northamptonshire council did earlier this year. It did say at the time it would have to make “urgent decisions” to address its financial position.

The council will be consulting on proposals for councillors and staff to take two days’ unpaid leave for the next two years. Unite union has criticised this idea, saying it was “a step too far”.

Elsewhere, Fife Council is faced with a £32m budget gap by 2022, according to a council report.

The Scottish council will have to make savings of 5% every year to plug gaps in its finances, the report put to the council’s policy and coordination committee said.

The council predicted its budget gap will rise from £9.4m in 2019-20 to £23.1m in 2020-21 and reach £32.1m in 2021-22.

The report said the biggest budget pressures faced by the council include children’s services and education (48%) and health and social care (17%).

The council has been contacted for comment.”