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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 January, 2004, 16:35 GMT
Pensioners protest on council tax
Protesters want the tax replaced by one based on their ability to pay
Hundreds of pensioners have taken part in a march and rally to protest against rising council tax bills.

Police in London said some 600 protesters walked from Trafalgar Square to 10 Downing Street to present a 35,000-strong petition calling for an end to the tax.

The pensioners say they want a new system linked to ability to pay.

The demonstration was organised by the campaign group Is It Fair, which claims, on average, the cost of council tax has risen by up to 70% since 1997.

Higher estimates

The group had expected 3,000 to attend the rally and said they had counted more than 2,000 people.

We will march again if it's necessary. We must get the council tax changed - it needs to be changed into something fairer
Christine Melson
Is It Fair
Campaign head Christine Melson said: "I think it has gone very well, considering the march was off, then on.

"It had been cancelled at the end of last week and on Thursday I was told it was back on again.

She added: "We will march again if it's necessary. We must get the council tax changed - it needs to be changed into something fairer. We cannot afford to pay it."

Tax 'senseless'

Many protesters said they had made a late decision to demonstrate, having heard the protest mentioned on the morning news.

Bryce Kerr, 68, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, said he was already in London and felt obliged to attend on half of those pensioners too frail to.

"My mum and me, we are relatively okay in terms of finance, but I want to be here for people who cannot do it themselves.

"For those people who find themselves burdened by the council tax."

Ken Lacey, chairman of the Western Senior Citizen's Forum, had travelled to London with a coach party of 30 people from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset.

The 76-year-old said : "My pension went up 100 last year. My council tax went up 154. It does not make sense.

"A lot of our members are considering not paying above the rate of inflation [of their council tax] this year.

"If we have to go to court we will go mob-handed."

Veterans 'facing poverty'

Among those supporting the action was the Royal British Legion, which says the tax is unfair.

It says ex-service personnel who have fought in wars for freedom and a better life are now facing increased hardship and poverty because of the rising charges.

Armed service pensions have risen by 2.8% this year while council tax has increased by 12.9%, it said.

Spokesman Jeremy Lillies added: "We have people who are on a limited income who are less and less able to afford even the modest necessities of life.

Council tax explained

"They're driven to come to protest in the hope that the government will acknowledge that something has to be done to stop this."

At the march Rita Davis, 73, from Guilford backed that view: "My husband worked until he was 76-years-old.

"He volunteered for the army during the war. This is a disgraceful government.

"My husband and I live below the poverty line and it's because of the council tax."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's John Andrew
"The march ended with a petition to Downing Street"



SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Council tax changes
15 Jan 04  |  Politics
Tax rebel pensioner in court
15 Jan 04  |  Hampshire/Dorset
Kennedy hails 'fairer' tax plans
12 Jan 04  |  Politics
Minister considers local income tax
22 Oct 03  |  Politics


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