Row breaks out over council's claim it charges lowest tax

Hundreds of households face being taken to court for failing to make council tax payments during the

Breckland District Council currently charges an average of £98.73 per year for people living in Band D properties - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

A row has broken out over claims by a Norfolk council that it charges the lowest tax in the country.

Conservative-controlled Breckland District Council is proposing to raise its council tax by almost the maximum amount, but insists it can do so without losing its oft-cited boast that it offers the lowest district rates in the land.

The council's executive member for finance, Philip Cowen, said that even with the "modest" increase "we are still the lowest-taxing district in the country”.

But the authority's claim - which it has made proudly for several years - was challenged by Green councillor Timothy Birt, who insists that Breckland's taxpayers do not even have the lowest total bills in Norfolk.

The council currently charges an average of £98.73 per year for its portion of the council tax bill on Band D properties. 

According to a Breckland-published report, this compares with Broadland’s £129.91, King’s Lynn and West Norfolk’s £134.87, North Norfolk’s £153.72, South Norfolk’s £160, Great Yarmouth’s £171.48 and Norwich’s £274.74.

Breckland Councillor Philip Cowen. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Conservative executive member for finance Philip Cowen - Credit: Mark Bullimore/Mark Bullimore Ph

Breckland is proposing to raise the annual charge by 5.01pc - a rise of £4.95 for Band D properties.

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The maximum increase for district councils - without needing a referendum - is either 2pc or £5, whichever is larger.

At a council meeting on Monday, his Conservative colleague Ian Sherwood repeated the claim the district had the lowest tax in Norfolk, and said it was "possibly" the lowest in the country. 

Breckland councillor and Conservative party agent, Ian Sherwood, says divisive issues within parish

Conservative councillor Ian Sherwood - Credit: Breckland Council

But Mr Birt disputed this, pointing out that total council tax bills - which also include portions for police, parish and county councils - are higher in Breckland than in other parts of Norfolk.

“We keep hearing about ‘lowest council tax’, but even [according to] that table, it’s only the lowest district council tax.

Timothy Birt, Green candidate for Watton. Pic: Green Party.

Timothy Birt from the Green Party - Credit: Green Party

“If you group everything together, we’re not even the lowest in Norfolk.

“I don’t want us to misrepresent where we are. We are low, but we are not the lowest.”

Mr Cowen responded: “We are the lowest district council taxing authority in Norfolk.

"You can’t pick and choose and do a sort of old-fashioned Woolworths pick-and-mix in your sweetie box.

“We as Breckland district are the lowest district council taxing authority - that’s unequivocal and I think everyone needs to understand that.”

Legal services website Quittance lists the overall bill - including all elements of council tax, such as the portions charged by the county council and police - as being cheapest for Band D properties in Great Yarmouth, with Breckland only the second-cheapest in Norfolk. 

It lists the cheapest overall bill nationally as being found in the London Borough of Wandsworth.

The taxes charged by Norfolk’s seven district, borough, and city councils are not directly comparable - because Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn do not have parish councils.

This leaves the city and borough councils to provide services that would elsewhere be delivered by the parishes. 

Terry Jermy who is chair of the board at Charles Burrell Centre and a town, district, and county cou

Terry Jermy who is chair of the board at Charles Burrell Centre and a town, district, and county councillor. Picture: Conor Matchett - Credit: Archant

Labour group leader Terry Jermy pointed out that Labour-controlled Norwich provides 100pc council tax support to those in need, compared with Breckland’s maximum of 91.5pc support. 

Sam Chapman-Allen, leader of Breckland Council. Pic: Breckland Council.

Sam Chapman-Allen, leader of Breckland Council. Pic: Breckland Council. - Credit: Archant

Breckland council leader Sam Chapman-Allen returned: “I’m sure that the £10.6m worth of savings that the city council at Norwich have to face, which they announced at their cabinet meeting in October, has some reflection on the fact that they offer such [a] difference in approach to support for their residents.”