Council tax is due to go up on April 1 for many people, meaning another turn of the screw for those already struggling with the cost of living crisis.
Welsh people have seen council tax increase much faster than in England and Scotland over the last 12 years.
However, those in Rutland and Nottingham in the East Midlands will have the highest fees when the 2023/24 rates come into effect on 1 April.
People living in D band properties will pay over £2,400 a year, while similarly priced property owners in Westminster and Wandsworth will pay less than £900.
Despite having lower rates per group than Rutland and Nottingham, Surrey council residents are likely to pay some of the highest council tax rates as there are more properties valued in the highest tax brackets.
In Elmbridge, an area of Surrey home to many Chelsea players seeking proximity to their Cobham training ground, more than a quarter of homes are in Group G and H, six times the normal rate across the UK.
Only one in fifty properties are in the cheapest A and B groups, compared to a national average of one in five.
As a result, Elmbridge residents are likely to pay more than £2,800 a year by April 2024, more than in any other area.
At the other end of the scale, almost all of the areas with the cheapest council tax after house prices are in Scotland.
People in Shetland and the Western Isles will pay less than £1,200 on average, more than Wandsworth and even less than Westminster, which remains bottom of the table despite high house prices.
The cheapest areas outside of London and Scotland are Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Wigan, where people are likely to pay almost £1,500 a head.
What is happening in different nations?
Every council in Scotland has reduced council tax real conditions from 2011/12, the first year for which equivalent data is available in all three countries of England, Scotland and Wales.
In Wales, council tax has increased by at least 12% in every council area, even after adjusting for inflation.
The Northern Ireland Department of Finance says it is “impossible to make a direct comparison” with other countries on council tax. The country has a national rate system that is similar to but different from council tax.
In Wales as a whole, people are likely to pay around a fifth more than twelve years ago, even after inflation, while people in Scotland will pay around 8% less.
This year’s high inflation is cited as one of the reasons for the rise in interest rates in Wales:
“Budgeting is extremely difficult this year due to high inflation and other cost factors. While the Welsh Government’s settlement was better than expected, there is still a huge gap of around £300m to be filled.
But inflation was also high in the rest of the UK.
The Scottish Government froze council tax from 2007/08 to 2016/17 and blocked councils from raising rates by more than 3% in real terms between then and 2020-21.
“This has resulted in 30-40% lower council tax charges in Scotland compared to England and Wales,” says the Scottish Local Authority Convention.
There has never been such a cap in Wales, while in England councils with social welfare responsibilities can increase council tax by 5% and others can increase it by 3%.
If the local authority wants to increase council tax by more than 5%, residents must vote for it in a referendum. So far, perhaps unsurprisingly, none has been forwarded.
However, Croydon, Slough and Thurrock have been given special permission from the government this year to raise council tax above this ceiling due to huge gaps in their finances.
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Why do some councils set a higher council tax than others?
You’ll get a different answer depending on who you ask.
Councils that have managed to keep council tax down, such as Wandsworth, Hillingdon and Hammersmith & Fulham, have recognized the prudent and responsible management of accountable finances for several years.
Places such as Rutland, Dorset and Wakefield, which have all raised council tax by some of the highest amounts in England, have nevertheless called for fairer council funding.
They say many councils that charge less council tax receive more money from central government subsidies, even though they often have less demand for expensive services such as adult social care.
Are the explanations fair?
The Local Government Association told Sky News that one fund the English government gives to councils – the Revenue Support Grant – means “essentially much of the calculation of how much council tax people pay is set centrally”, supporting councils’ claims that higher taxes are a bit out of their control.
The more grants a council receives, the more likely it is to have less council tax.
Westminster receives more than £170 per person from the Revenue Support Grant, which is more than the bottom 157 councils combined – each receiving less than £2 per person.
Rural areas are most affected. Five of the ten areas that receive the most Revenue Support Grants per person are in London, and all the others are cities.
Adding to the problem, councils with the most people over 65 – also more likely to be in rural areas – have higher council tax rates than those with fewer.
Councilor Lucy Stevenson, leader of Rutland Council, told Sky News that “part of the first job is to tell our village story so that we get people to look beyond what they see as affluence and actually into the county.”
“When we were thinking about upgrading, some residents were like, ‘Are you sure we deserve this money? I said “absolutely. Have you looked at our data?”
“The second task is to come up with solutions. There is a wider problem for local governments. Most councils are looking at budget deficits or service cuts. The entire local government needs serious consideration.
“It’s the country’s workhorse for everyone’s daily life.”
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