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Residents to receive council tax refund following error over churchyard

Parish council fights West Berkshire Council on "matter of principle"

cash money

TILEHURST residents will receive a refund on their council tax bills this year following a blunder by West Berkshire Council. 

The district council has agreed to repay revenue taken prematurely from residents on last year’s bill after 10 months of negotiations with Tilehurst Parish Council. 

The bill included a special charge for the maintenance of St Michael’s churchyard, a responsibility that had not been passed to West Berkshire Council.

The churchyard, situated within the boundaries of Tilehurst parish, was due to close – which means that Church Commissioners could request that future maintenance be passed on to councils.

But before Tilehurst Parish Council could take over the stewardship, the district council had already begun charging residents. 

Chairwoman of Tilehurst Parish Council, Jean Gardner, said it had received a large amount of concerned calls over the hike. 

She said: “The letter never came to the parish council, it went to West Berkshire who of course put this special charge on, to which we knew nothing.

“The church said it had been done incorrectly.

“The law says that the [district] council could not take any money until it had incurred costs.

“They charged money to our people before they had taken control of it.”

Mrs Gardner said that the parish council had fought West Berkshire Council as a matter of principle.

“It’s not a huge amount of money,” she said. “It’s about £2.30 a household, but it adds up to over £12,000 because we are a big parish.

“To take money without saying why and not telling anybody; and they had not incurred any costs either. It’s the principle, that’s why we were determined they would pay back this money. 

“We have decided as a parish that we are going to take on the responsibility of the churchyard because we think local is better.” 

Mrs Gardner said that the parish council considered that best value could be achieved under local stewardship and has included the maintenance cost in this year’s precept.

She said: “This took 10 months and they have just agreed to reduce the council tax for the residents of Tilehurst.

“We have had no apology, but then it is West Berkshire Council we are dealing with.” 

A spokesman for West Berkshire Council, Martin Dunscombe, said: “Unfortunately this occurred due to an administrative error which is now being rectified by the council.

“The total being refunded is around £12,500 – the equivalent of £2.29 on a Band D council tax bill.”

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