Harry Fone is the Grassroots Campaign Manager for the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
There was little to joke about on April Fool’s Day as a cacophony of Council Tax rises and cost of living increases hit millions of households. Almost every household across the nation will be suffering another year of Council Tax rises.
Although the average tax rise of £67 (excluding the £150 rebate) in England for 2022-23 wasn’t as severe as last year’s at £81, it still places a greater burden on millions of people trying to make ends meet every month. I’ve pored through the Council Tax data from England, Scotland and Wales to see which areas of the country are feeling the squeeze most.
At a national level, on average, you’re better off living in Scotland when it comes to Council Tax. In England, a typical bill comes in at £1,966 and in Wales, £1,777. Scots will pay just £1,336. Despite Scottish authorities having no cap on increases this year, the largest was a fairly modest four per cent in Falkirk. 22 out of 32 Scottish councils opted for a three per cent rise. Only one, Shetland, froze Council Tax. It also had the lowest bills in Scotland. Residents in Midlothian faced the highest charges at £1,442.
In Wales, there are encouraging signs that the days of double-digit Council Tax rises may be over. The highest percentage increase was recorded in Pembrokeshire at five per cent. The average rise across the country was just 2.2 per cent. Blaenau Gwent topped the charts with the highest Council Tax bill at £2,099 – over £500 higher than neighbouring Caerphilly. Bridgend wins the award for lowest percentage increase in Council Tax at 0.7 per cent. While there’s better news from Wales this year, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the Welsh Government has unleashed new regulations that could see Council Tax bills skyrocketing on second homes.
In England it’s a mixed picture, but purely in terms of Council Tax bills you’re better off living in the capital. On average, London boroughs were £334 cheaper than the rest of the country. In fact, if you omit these authorities from the data, the average Band D bill in England climbs past £2,000. Mapping council tax bills shows that it’s households in the South West, East Midlands, and North East that are enduring some of the biggest Council Tax bills.
This year Rutland knocked Nottingham off the top spot to claim the highest Band D bill in England and indeed Great Britain. Since 2018 Rutland has climbed from seventh spot and bills are now hitting £2,300. In the last five years its average Council Tax rise has been 4.4 per cent. If the trend continues, residents in Rutland will be paying just shy of £3,000 for a Band D bill in 2028. Those in Band H could be forking out close to £6,000 a year in Council Tax.
Mercifully bills aren’t at £3,000 yet but an ever greater number of households are paying in excess of £2,000. For 2022-23, 171 local authorities (55 per cent) have achieved this lamentable state of affairs. Just four years ago, not one single council in England had a Band D bill greater than £2,000. Looking at the bigger picture, since 1993-94, Council Tax has increased by 246 per cent in cash terms.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. As I wrote in my last column, some councils are bucking the trend. I’m pleased to see that in total seven have frozen bills and two managed to cut taxes for residents. Of those that froze bills, six were district councils with Southampton being the only unitary council. Residents of Wandsworth had the second lowest Council Tax in the country and also enjoyed a one per cent cut.
Sadly the cost of living crisis doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. That’s why at the TaxPayers’ Alliance we implore councils to be relentless on eradicating wasteful spending. As we’ve consistently shown, there is plenty more fat left to trim. Councils like Wandsworth, Southampton, and Harlow, are proof that bills don’t always have to go up. A rise of just two per cent next year will see the average Council Tax bill in England soar past £2,000. Authorities up and down the land must do everything possible to spare their residents yet more punishing tax hikes.