Council tax a charge for services – but which ones?

Council tax remains unpopular among homeowners, and if the latest figures are anything to go by, one that many people are finding increasingly difficult to pay.

One accusation that has been levelled at local authorities by residents is that the ever-increasing rise in council tax bills is not matched by a visible improvement in local public services. This, despite some local government ministers describing council tax as a charge for ensuring the continued provision and improvement of local services.

Imagine therefore, the backlash that can be expected if the reports that MPs are considering the possibility of collecting the BBC’s licence by adding it on to council tax are correct. The 2014-15 average annual Band D council tax payment in England is £1,468, so if such a plan was implemented and the BBC licence fee charge of £145.50 was added, it would increase the bill by a tenth and would constitute a rise in tax per household of about 14%.

Before the speculation can be dismissed as groundless, a look at the timing of it is interesting and perhaps suggests it is not as far-fetched as would initially appear. The impending date for BBC licence renewal has given rise to increasing discussion about the way the corporation and other public service broadcasting should be paid for. However, any consideration of adding the cost of BBC television and radio to council tax is surely at odds with the local government declaration that the levy should be viewed as a charge for local services. Even the most optimistic ministers would find it difficult to envisage that sitting well with homeowners.

The protestations that our council tax system is increasingly regressive are unlikely to be quelled if such a proposal goes ahead, in fact quite the reverse. The fact that it has been built up as a levy that pays for a particular set of public services means that it cannot be logical or justified to use it to pay for a different and completely unrelated one.

If licence fees were bolted on to council tax bills, local authorities would find themselves under fire and probably at risk of a dramatic reduction in their collection rates. If taxation is to remain the government’s preferred method for payment of public service broadcasting, then it must not shirk its responsibility for collecting it.

Council Tax Advisors offers free, independent advice to people in council tax arrears. If you are struggling with your repayments or would like to check whether you are eligible for a reduction in your bill, contact us.

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