Error doubles council tax

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COUNCIL taxpayers in many parts of England will see their bills rise by twice the level publicly admitted by ministers because of a pounds 5m error by social security department officials.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury, William Waldegrave, told MPs before Christmas that he expected council tax bills to rise by an average of 8 per cent next year. But the Independent on Sunday and Public Finance magazine have uncovered a double-counting error by civil servants that will result in bills rising by as much as 16 per cent in some areas when the Government corrects the error by cutting grants. It affects only the 13 new all-purpose councils being created in England this year following the abolition of the "artificial" counties of Avon, Cleveland and Humberside.

Taxpayers in Bristol are now likely to see bills rise by up to 16 per cent after having pounds 764,000 knocked off the budget. Redcar and Cleveland council expects bills to increase by a similar figure, as does Hartlepool with a pounds 244,000 shortfall.

Kingston-upon-Hull was hit hardest by the change. The pounds 1m knocked off its social services grant alone is likely to require an average pounds 14 rise.

Other Avon councils, North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and North Somerset, will have to cut budgets by up to pounds 364,000 or pass the shortfall on. In Cleveland, Middlesborough loses pounds 354,000 and Stockton- on-Tees pounds 341,000.

In Humberside, the new East Riding of Yorkshire authority loses pounds 466,000, North East Lincolnshire pounds 401,000 and North Lincolnshire pounds 278,000. York's grant is cut by pounds 215,000.