A year ago I reported that Council Tax bills would be going up in Hammersmith and Fulham for the first time in 11 years. I’m afraid that this year households will see another increase. Some residents tell me they “don’t mind” paying more – but they tend to be those on higher incomes. Council Tax hits the low paid the hardest and for those on tight budgets any increase is unwelcome. Wandsworth and Westminster have much lower bills while maintaining a high standard of local services.
The Council Tax bill is really two bills. The part that goes to Hammersmith and Fulham Council has been frozen again – breaking Labour’s pledge to cut it.
Another chunk of the Council Tax goes to the Mayor of London for the precept. That bill is going up 5.1 per cent. That is the maximum amount that the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is able to push it up without the approval of a referendum. It equates to an increase from £280.02 to £294.22 a year for a Band D household.
It could be worse. Chris Williamson, a Labour Shadow Minister, proposes a 20 per cent increase in Band D Council Tax across the country, a 40 per cent increase for Band E, a 60 per cent increase for Band F, an 80 per cent increase for Band F and 100 per cent rise for Band H. No Council Taxpayers would benefit under his plan – Bands A-C would be frozen. But the proposals for Bands D-H would mean huge rises for most people in Hammersmith and Fulham – they would hit 62,292 or the borough’s 86,793 households.
Of course many of those living in high value properties include pensioners and others who may not be high incomes. It’s not yet adopted as official Labour policy but Williamson is a close ally of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – and so gives an indication of the direction of travel in the Labour Party on this issue.
Good news that Williamson has been sacked as a shadow spokesman. But how much comfort should we take from that? I suspect that his offence was being indiscreet about Labour’s intentions…
Our Council Tax bill is really two bills – one chunk goes to Hammersmith and Fulham Council and another chunk to the Mayor of London as the precept. This year will see the total rise for the first time for 11 years. Back in 2006 the then Labour Council increased its share by another 1.5 per cent (on top of much bigger increases in earlier years) for the coming financial year. The then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone increased his precept by 13.3 per cent. The upshot was that the total bill for a Band D household went up from £1,158 to £1,206.
In 2006 the Conservatives were elected and cut the Council Tax by three per cent in the following financial year 2007/08. Then by another three per cent for 2008/09, then another three per cent for 2009/10, then by another three per cent for 2010/11. A pattern was starting to emerge. There was a freeze in 2011/12 but then a cut of 3.7 per cent in 2012/13, another three per cent in 2013/14 and another cut on three per cent in 2014/15.
For the couple of years the reduction in bills was unfortunately partially offset by Mayor Livingstone’s tax hikes (he put up the precept by 5.3 per cent in 2007/08 and another two per cent in 2008/09.) But in 2008 Boris Johnson became Mayor of London and for his eight years at City Hall the precept was frozen and then cut.
Labour won control of Hammersmith and Fulham in 2014 promising to cut Council Tax at a faster rate than the Conservatives managed. Each year the Labour Group leader Cllr Stephen Cowan had stood up saying that the three per cent Council Tax cut did not go far enough. But in 2015/16 he only managed a one per cent cut, then in 2016/17 a freeze. However we still enjoyed a fall in our bill this year because in his final budget as Mayor of London Boris Johnson cut his share – the precept – by 6.4 per cent.
Sometimes people say that the sums involved are trivial. But they are not cumulatively to those on a tight budget. This year the Band D bill is £1,004 – so just over two hundred pounds lower than 2006. For some that’s the difference between whether they can afford a holiday or not. (The gap is even bigger in comparison with the average for England – where the Band D bill has gone up on average from £1,268 in 2006/07 to £1,530 this year. So while we pay £202 less others on average pay £262 more.)
Another claim is that it is “impossible” to cut the Council Tax any further. But in Wandsworth the Band D Council Tax is £680. In Westminster it is £669.
In the coming financial year – 2017/18 – Council Tax bills on Band D will increase by £4.02p. Hammersmith and Fulham Council is freezing the Council Tax. But the new Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is increasing the precept by 1.5 per cent.
So a very regrettable change in direction – and one that hits the poorest the hardest.