Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Thursday, 26 February 2004

'Highest' tax rise of 39% agreed

Shepway District Council officer
The council voted 22 to 15 in favour of the increase

Residents in part of Kent are facing what is thought to be the country's highest council tax increase.

Liberal Democrat-controlled Shepway District Council approved a 39% rise on Wednesday night.

The 67.40-a-year increase for the average home is 16 times the rate of inflation.

Council leader Linda Cufley says if the government carries out a threat to cap high increases, it will cost 100,000 to send out revised bills.

The rise is higher than that proposed and then dropped by councillors in West Oxfordshire.

Overall in Shepway, an average band D property will pay 1,247 in 2004/5 compared with 1,120 in 2003/4.

Minister's warning

This is an 11.3% rise overall, because the total bill includes other elements, such as Kent County Council's council tax.

Shepway Council's portion of the band D bill for the next financial year will be 240.30.

I shall be really annoyed if they call us in and tell us to reduce the budget once the bills have gone out
Cllr Linda Cufley

The local government minister Nick Raynsford has forewarned councils that increases above about 5% could be capped.

Cllr Cufley said: "We have been phoning on a weekly basis lately asking why everyone else has had a letter and why he [Nick Raynsford] has not been to see us.

"We have been told they are aware of our plans.

"I shall be really annoyed if they call us in and tell us to reduce the budget once the bills have gone out.

"It would be another burden on the district of 100,000 for re-billing."

'Extremely high increase'

The increase has been blamed on a lack of reserve funding and stretched budgets.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: "This is an extremely high increase, but we do not know if it is the highest until all of the figures come in.

"Councils have been warned by ministers to submit single figure increases and if they fail to do so their charges can be capped.

"We also have an open door here and good lines of communications and Nick Raynsford responds to people who contact him."

Liability orders

The Local Government Association said the 39% increase was the highest it had heard of so far.

On Wednesday, council leaders in West Oxfordshire decided to scrap a proposed 33% council tax rise.

Councillors agreed to cut the rise to 5%, at an emergency meeting.

At Exeter Magistrates Court in Devon, more than 300 liability orders were issued on Wednesday to people who still owe council tax for the current financial year to the city council.

Two pensioners who are members of the campaigning Devon Pensioners Action Forum appeared in person.

Their non-payment of part of their council tax bill followed last year's near 18% rise in council tax.

SEE ALSO
Highest council tax rise scrapped
25 Feb 04 |  Oxfordshire
Hundreds ordered to pay tax
25 Feb 04 |  Devon
Vicar set to withhold tax money
25 Feb 04 |  Leicestershire
How to claim council tax benefit
25 Feb 04 |  Business

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