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Additional fees for council services on the rise, think tank finds

Residents are increasingly paying additional fees for council-run services that are already funded through tax, a leading think tank has today stated.

The research gathered by the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA), which analysed 22 services, found that as a proportion of their total service expenditure, councils’ total sales, fees and charges rose to 9.6% in 2015-16 compared to 8.7% in 2010-11.

But excluding education services, revenues from sales, fees and charges actually declined by 4.3% between 2010-11 and 2015-16.

Fees and charges for waste collection saw a large increase, as charges to individuals rose by 37% between 2010 and 2016. Charges for housing benefit administration also rose by around 232% between the same period.

The report also follows accusations that councils were imposing a “stealth tax” for the families of people in care, even when care was supposed to be funded by local authorities.

“Whether it’s the charge from the library for that book that you’ve had out too long, or getting a copy of your birth certificate, local authorities in England are finding increasingly imaginative ways to charge residents for services they’re already paying for,” said Duncan Simpson, policy analyst at TPA and author of the report.

“Looking at specific areas of council spending, there have been some steep increases. Fees levied for housing benefit administration have increased 237% during this six-year period. Many local authorities also own transport assets.

“Newcastle Airport, for instance, is majority-owned by seven local authorities in the north east. There has been a real-terms increase of 109% in fees between 2010 and 2016 for tolls, airports and harbours.”

However, Simpson did acknowledge that service charges are not necessarily unfair and that moving to a model where residents are charged for services that they actually use would be quite reasonable, and something that needs serious thought for future.

“But it’s fundamentally unfair to ask residents to pay twice for a service which should be covered in their council tax and business rates, and which may be better provided by the private sector,” he argued.

“Local authorities have seen steep reductions in central government grants since 2010. But they also need to be upfront about why charges are levied and whether they are doing all they can to eliminate wasteful spending.”

Cllr Claire Kober, chair of the LGA’s Resources Board, defended councils by saying that councils are still receiving £500m less in income from fees and charges than they did five years ago.

“Faced with escalating costs and unprecedented funding cuts since 2010, this is a tremendous effort by councils to keep fees and charges low for hard-pressed residents,” she said. “The bigger picture is that councils face an overall £5.8bn funding gap by 2020.”

“Even if councils stopped filling potholes, maintaining parks and open spaces, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres, turned off every street light and shut all discretionary bus routes they still would not have saved enough money to plug this gap by the end of the decade.”

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