A Very British Rebellion; Huge Rises in Council Tax Bills Have Stirred Middle England to Threaten Civil Revolt

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), September 28, 2003 | Go to article overview
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A Very British Rebellion; Huge Rises in Council Tax Bills Have Stirred Middle England to Threaten Civil Revolt


Byline: STEPHEN WOMACK

MASSIVE rises in council tax bills are turning lawabiding citizens into unlikely rebels.

Bills soared by an average 13 per cent in April, but rises were much higher in London and the South-East. And the inflated bills are hitting those on fixed incomes hardest, with pensioners in the front line.

The state pension, for example, rose in April by [pounds sterling]8.45 a month for a single person. But the average council tax bill for someone living alone in a midsize band D home went up by [pounds sterling]7.25 a month, leaving a pensioner only [pounds sterling]1.20 a month better off.

And the rises are stirring strong emotions.

Retired accountant Peter Webb, 72, from Godalming, Surrey, formed the Surrey Tax Action Group (Stag) last April.

'My council tax bill went up by more than [pounds sterling]200, an increase of 20 per cent. I felt that when I started this thing some sort of civil disobedience was going to be the only option to force change.

'I'm doing all that I can to slow my payments, though I'm not urging anyone to break the law.' Pensioners in Devon have vowed to go to prison rather than pay the extra tax. Stag has joined forces with other groups across the country under the banner Is It Fair? (www.isitfair.co.uk).

There are moves to answer pensioners' concerns. The Government has already warned that it will stop councils from pushing through 'excessive rises' next year.

Kent County Council has said it wants to introduce a special pensioners' discount so that their bills would not increase by more than the rate of inflation, though non-pensioner households would have to pay extra.

Looking further ahead, the Liberal Democrats have pledged to scrap council tax if they win power. Their annual conference was told last week that party leaders want to replace it with a local income tax, levied at about 3.

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