Householders could soon be charged for the privilege of paying their council tax by credit card after the council approved a raft of price hikes for next year.
Retailers and offices will also be hit, as the 1.5 per cent credit card charge will be applied to those paying business rates.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council expects to make almost £5,000 a year from the move, coupled with an increase in fines for late payment, from £40 to £50. Paying by debit card will remain free of charge.
The decision, made by members of TWBC’s cabinet last Thursday, comes as the council grapples with balancing the books in the face of ‘dramatic’ cuts to its government grant, which has fallen by 50 per cent since 2010, with a further £261,000 cut from next year’s grant.
Documents considered by cabinet reveal TWBC had researched the legality of the credit card fees but had concluded: “It is possible to charge for é these transactions.”
But business leaders were dismayed by the idea, believing it would hamper economic development of the borough.
Andrew Metcalf, director at Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce and of Maxim PR, believed the plan was ‘wholly unacceptable’.
He said: “Businesses in Tunbridge Wells are already paying significant sums in rates. Asking them to pay a surcharge seems wholly unacceptable.
“The council should be focused on ensuring the government allows it to retain a larger proportion of business rates then it currently does in order to support the economic development of the borough.”
Jonathan Isaby of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “Tunbridge Wells residents will view this additional 1.5 per cent charge with shock and disgust.
“Exorbitant credit card charges should not be used to raise additional revenue from already overburdened taxpayers.
“Council bosses must ensure they are not being unnecessarily punitive with these charges, especially since they are already intent on raising council tax next year.”
The Times has previously reported the council could be increasing council tax by up to two per cent next year, but the income from this rise alone will not be enough to counter guts from the central grant.
A spokesman for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council said: “Over 70 per cent of residents already pay council tax by direct debit which is very good news as it costs the council less to process this method of payment. If you don’t already pay by direct debit would you consider the change?
“Residents may not be aware that banks charge the council for processing payments. Credit card charges are particularly high therefore we have reluctantly decided we need to pass on part of this cost but we will continue to keep debit card payments free. Government funding to the council continues to fall and we are working hard to control costs without affecting services.”
The credit card surcharge is just one of a series of fees and charges earmarked for increase next year. Others include:
- Skin-piercing licence, up 68 per cent from £170 to £286
- Bulky waste collection, up from £25 to £30
- Dog-breeding licence, up 27 per cent from £158 to £200
- Cremation fees, up from five per cent from £600 to £631 for a 45-minute slot
But certain costs will be decreasing, with the price for enquiries about land contamination falling 84 per cent from £158 for the first hour to £25.
The cost of food safety courses will fall from £65 to £60 and 30 minutes of pre-planning application advice for minor schemes will fall from £250 to £200. Obtaining the planning history of a site will be free, instead of the current £25.