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Council tax hikes on 1 April are no joke (in an election year)

Council Tax concept
By Rachel Groves
04 April 2024
Public Affairs
council tax
local politics

The long Easter weekend seems like a distant memory but hidden within the bank holiday fun was the annual council tax increase which came into play on 1st April and for many, is no laughing matter. 

Against a backdrop of economic struggle, the maximum 4.99% increase to council tax was adopted by all but eight of the 129 English councils to have published their plan - a huge rise in an election year. However, for those living in Birmingham (Lab), Woking (Lib Dem), Slough (Con & Lib Dem) and Thurrock (Con & Lab) the increase was even more astronomical as the government granted special dispensation for a rise of up to 10%.  

Birmingham City Council’s (BCC) council tax bill has gone up by an eye-watering 9.99% and will go up by the same amount again in 2025/26. Woking residents will also see a 9.99% rise, with Thurrokians facing a 7.99% increase (having already stomached a 9.99% hike last year), and those in Slough facing an 8.5% surge in their annual bill. 

Birmingham, Woking and Nottingham’s councils filed section 114 notices in 2023, effectively declaring themselves bust following Croydon, Hackney, Nottinghamshire, and Thurrock’s declarations in previous years. Caused largely by unmanageable debts, cost pressures and the increasing need for care services. 

As a Brummie living in the largest local authority in Europe, I was shocked at what is effectively a double whammy. A 21% increase in my council tax bill over the next two years at a time when energy and goods prices are at historically high levels, accompanied by a brutal reduction in services. BCC, under Labour control since 2012, blames its financial mess on equality pay claims of up to £760m and an overspend of almost £100m on a much-maligned IT system.  

As a result, Birmingham will see streetlights being dimmed (creating a surprising saving of almost £1m per year), waste collections moving to fortnightly and cuts to social care, highway maintenance and much more. However you look at it, Birmingham residents are going to feel the cuts and it’s going to affect the way the city looks and could affect the way its population votes. 

But it’s not just the tangible effects now that are most concerning. We have to ask if the short-term gain will result in long-term pain for the city? 

Birmingham boasts one of the youngest populations in Europe with 36% of its 1.1 million residents under the age of 35. But will this demographic choose to move to avoid high Council tax bills? Will it stop Birmingham being an attractive proposition for those moving out of London? What will happen to house prices and what will be the wider impact on the economy? And why in a city which is made up of 51% women, are women having to pay for the historic debt created by not paying women fairly?  

Many other local authorities are rumoured to be close to bankruptcy, which could result in other councils hiking taxes in the future. Has the decentralisation of government played a part in the economic decline of local authorities? 

For those facing a further bill increase during the ongoing cost of living crisis this could be the final straw. Current statistics state that two in ten adults and three in ten children are already living in poverty - could this change throw more families under the poverty line? 

With a general election just around the corner, a new government has an overfilling basketful of priorities and problems but making sure our local authorities are being professionally and competently run and funded has to be near the top – for all our sakes!