Westmorland and Furness Council has launched a public consultation on council tax levels.
The consultation comes as the council prepares to set its first budget ahead of vesting day on April 1 this year.
Councillor Andrew Jarvis, Cabinet Member for Finance, said: “These proposals have been carefully thought through and are not being made lightly.
“Our projections are that the cost of providing essential services will increase by £20 million in 2023/24. The funding we receive directly from Government won’t cover that, so we have to look to the local flexibility around council tax levels to generate increases in the council’s income.
“The money raised this way will directly pay for essential local services like waste, highways, parks and leisure and social care, as well as allowing us to make progress in the priority areas we have identified in our Council Plan.
“We know that many people are finding it harder financially at the moment. That’s why we are planning a generous council tax reduction scheme for people on low incomes, which includes up to 100 percent relief for those residents most in need of support.
“This is at a time when many councils have chosen to limit access or reduce the value of the council tax discount they offer.”
Details of the consultation and how to respond can be found under the Have Your Say section at westmorlandandfurness.gov.uk and people have until February 13 to respond.
Copies of the consultation will also be available in main council offices in Barrow, Kendal and Penrith and local libraries from next week.
The council is asking for feedback on three key proposals:
- In line with Government assumptions, the council is proposing a 4.99 percent rise in council tax for 2023/24. This is made up of a 2.99 percent basic increase plus another 2 percent specifically to help fund adult social care, known as the Adult Social Care Precept.
- It is also being proposed that council tax rates should be harmonised across the Westmorland and Furness area. Currently council tax levels vary between district council areas. Harmonisation will set a consistent council tax rate across the whole Westmorland and Furness area.
- Finally, the council is proposing to introduce a 100 percent council tax increase on the area’s 5,440 second homes, doubling the council tax they would pay from April 2024.
The proposals are intended to ensure that the new council can continue to provide essential local services and deliver on the ambitious vision and priorities in its recently agreed Council Plan.
The proposed increase in council tax charges for second homes is in anticipation of new legislation being passed in time for 1 April 2024.
There are 5440 second homes in the Westmorland and Furness area, accounting for 4.7 percent of the housing stock, but in some local areas such as Lakes at 21 percent, the proportion is far higher.
Commenting on the proposal Cllr Jarvis added: “This is a beautiful part of the country, so we understand why people want to come here.
“But the huge number of second homes, particularly in some areas, undermines the sustainability of our communities, both by reducing available housing stock and driving up prices for local people, and by making it more expensive and difficult for councils and businesses to provide the essential local services residents expect, especially in winter.
“It is one of our key council plan priorities to tackle these issues.
“The additional council tax on second homes could generate nearly £10 million of additional income for the area which will help us deliver our priorities, provide assistance to communities most affected and help tackle the affordable housing crisis. We think this makes sense.
“These are all big decisions for our new council to make, but one of our core values is listening to our communities and working with local people on the issues that matter most.
“That’s why I would encourage everyone share their views on what we are proposing through this consultation.”
People now have four weeks, until February 13, in which to respond to the consultation.
A consultation feedback report will be considered by Cabinet at their meeting on 24 February, ahead of a final decision on the council’s 2023/24 budget at the Shadow Authority meeting on 7 March.