Council tax in England is set to increase by 4% on average this year, more than double the rate of inflation, a survey suggests.
Councils say they are doing all they can to keep tax rises to a minimum
The Local Government Association, which questioned 112 councils, found seven out of 10 were planning to set rises of between 3.1% and 5%.
The rate of inflation is currently 1.9%. The government said it could cap charges by some local authorities.
The association blamed government "bureaucracy" for part of the rises.
For the Conservatives, Caroline Spelman said the government had "abused" council tax and used it as a "stealth tax".
She told the BBC that the problem with council tax was "that the government has allowed it to rise to such a level, that people are protesting, they're finding it very, very hard to pay".
'Prepared to act'
Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said the true size of increases would not be known until late March.
He added: "Our expectation is that most council tax bills should be below 5% and, if necessary, we are prepared to use our capping powers.
"It remains the position that it is local councils that set the council tax and therefore it will vary from area to area."
Annual increases in bills had fallen in recent years, while grants from central government to councils had risen faster than inflation, said the spokesman.
The LGA found 28% of local authorities had set council tax rises below 3%.
The authority's chairman, Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, said: "Councils are championing the interests of local residents and are doing everything in their power to keep council tax down."
He added: "Although local government is delivering more efficiency savings than any other part of the public sector this has left very little room for many authorities to manoeuvre between higher council tax and service reductions.
"It is a credit to local authorities that despite difficulties, councils have managed to keep increases so low."
But Liberal Democrat local government spokeswoman Sarah Teather said: "The whole local government finance system is broken, and the only way to fix it is to scrap council tax."
Local government minister Phil Woolas said he was "moderately pleased" that most councils had kept increases below 5%.
He added: "Labour councils already cost less. On average Labour councils cost £180 less than Tory controlled councils and £88 less than Lib Dem councils.
"It smacks of hypocrisy for Tory and Lib Dem politicians to complain about council tax increases when it is their councils that are responsible for the biggest increases."
Help the Aged spokesman Steve Jones said: "This comes within a week of the government announcing that it will not be providing a £200 pensioners' rebate this year, and a few short days after significant rises in household fuel bills.
"Above-inflation council tax rises couldn't possibly come at a worse time for Britain's older population."
Send us your comments on the proposed council tax increases using the form below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views received:
Why do they think people with bigger houses can afford to pay more? I work very hard, all my money over the last 13 years has gone towards going up the property ladder and I am penalised. I have a big mortgage, below average wage and yet pay far more than someone on a higher income with a smaller house.
I am not really surprised by the rise. In my local area the council have just spent £10,000 resurfacing a car park in a small village. Fair enough if it was regularly used. But it's a village and very rarely has more than twenty cars in it at one time. I have recently heard they are doing some maintenance to a local harbour, new lights etc. The materials alone for this will be in excess of £100,000. Not surprising really as they are going to spend OUR money on three stainless steel waste bins totalling £2,500 each ! It just seems that local councils have the money, they just waste it on ridiculous things that the public don't need, want or even know about.
Iain Williams, Newton Abbot, UK
Yet another blow for the ordinary working people who where lucky to get a payrise at all, let alone 5%. No doubt Tony and his cronies will find something else to talk about. Poverty is such a bad subject for Labour MPs!
Chris Houghton, Wigan
If council tax keeps increasing faster than average earnings as it is one day in the future it will be more than your salary and that's a simple law of mathematics. The answer is to peg increases to average earnings. Some of the salaries paid out in local government for made up jobs is astronomical. It's the biggest drain on the working poor and pensioners, a shocking tax.
Haven't we frequently heard that the government wants to curb the number of people claiming benefits? When the cost of living rises above inflation rates (and wages don't), wouldn't that make more people claim?
Sirs, there is an obvious way in which Councils could immediately save sizeable money - reduce the extremely generous pensions they pay to their employees. Why should they get a 2/3 pension, index linked, and (I think) in some cases at age 60? No such pensions are now available in the private sector - so if, as they often claim, they want parity, why don't they start by reducing their pensions? What they reduce to, we then might be able to afford.
John Bradley, Cobham, UK
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