Backing for council tax freeze

A SENIOR councillor has given his backing to freezing council tax levels for next year in order to give residents some respite in the wake of national spending cuts.

Labour councillor Robbie Payne described proposals for a freeze as a "no-brainer" and said it would help people plan ahead for the next financial year.

Councillors will meet in February to finalise Hartlepool Borough Council's tax bills for the 2011-12 financial year and if they agree to freeze it then the local authority would qualify for a new Government grant of about 1m, equivalent to raising the 2010-11 level by 2.5 per cent.

Coun Payne, who was speaking at a meeting of his finance and efficiency portfolio, said: "It is a no-brainer really and I am confident that it will be approved by the full council.

"This would be some good news for council tax payers in difficult times and it would help people to plan ahead."

It would mean residents in a Band A property would be 28 better off a year without a 2.5 per cent rise if the council, fire and police decided to freeze council tax.

Meanwhile, people living in a Band D property would have 42 more than they expected in their pocket.

Government ministers say the grant will be paid to local authorities, including police and fire authorities, which decide to freeze or reduce council tax this year.

Coun Payne agreed proposals to leave the non-collection level of council tax – which is the amount not collected by the finance department – at 1.5 per cent. Civic chiefs say the main reasons why outstanding council tax is not collected is if someone dies or if they abscond.

John Morton, the council's assistant chief finance and customer services officer, said that over a five-year period the council's collection rate is 99.2 per cent compared to the national average for a unitary authority of 98.6 per cent.