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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 16:25 GMT
Brown provokes council tax anger
Council tax form
Pensioners say council tax particularly hits them
Pensioners groups have angrily denounced Gordon Brown for failing to repeat last year's council tax rebate.

The chancellor last year gave pensioner households 200 back from their council tax bills but did not repeat the handout in Wednesday.

Age Concern said the decision "beggared belief" and Help The Aged said it was an "Ebenezer Scrooge Budget".

The Treasury says last year's rebate was a one-off but argues it has helped pensioners with travel costs.

Council tax in England is set to increase by 4% on average this year - double the rate of inflation, a recent survey has suggested.

Previous inflation-busting rises in council taxes have provoked protests from pensioners, who complain the increases particularly affect people on fixed incomes.

But ministers have threatened to cap councils who increase tax bills by more than 5%.

'Election bribe'

Last year's hand out was called a "pre-election bribe" to pensioners by critics of the government.

And on Thursday Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell asked: "Why was it they deserved help immediately before a general election and didn't deserve any help a year later?"

Age Concern's director-general, Gordon Lishman, said a fairer system of taxation was needed.

"It beggars belief that the chancellor has denied pensioners any extra help this year with their council tax bills, just as a new round of bills is set to cause anxiety for millions," he said.

"Council tax is a huge financial burden for many pensioners who are living on a low, fixed income."

'Shameful'

Mervyn Kohler, head of public affairs at Help the Aged, said it was a disgrace there was no repeat of a rebate.

"Our country's older people are already battered by fuel price rises and growing bills for council tax and water, but the government which found a pre-election bribe for older pensioners last year cannot renew it for 2006," he said.

"This exposes a shameful level of political expediency."

The chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Sandy Bruce Lockhart, also attacked the decision.

"Local authorities have done everything in their power to keep rises as low as possible but know that pensioners and low-income families face real difficulties in meeting their council tax bills on top of the rising bills for gas and electricity," he said.

But Sir Sandy warned that councils would take a "no nonsense" attitude to people who failed to pay their council taxes.

Travel perk

Mr Brown offered pensioners some respite through free off-peak national bus travel in England - although the scheme will not come into force until 2008.

Pensioners' tax-free winter allowance stays the same at 200, or 300 for the over 80s.

A Treasury spokesman said there was always something for pensioners in Budgets and this year it had been decided to tackle the bus travel issue.

He said last year's rebate was a "one off" because of the economic climate at the time but it might or might not be repeated in the future.


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