Coalition ended flooding victims’ council tax exemption

Ministers should tell councils not to force flood-hit families to pay their council tax, Labour has said, in its latest attempt to gain political capital out of the crisis faced by underwater Britain.

Two years ago the coalition explicitly changed guidance to local authorities, giving them discretion over whether flooding victims had to pay council tax.

Many local authorities have compromised by offering discounts for those whose homes are rendered uninhabitable.

David Cameron's local authority West Oxfordshire, for example, only lets those hit by the failure of flood defences off half of their council tax bill.

Now Labour, which in 2007's flooding only waived council tax payments for those left homeless for over 12 months, is calling for all families who are forced to leave their homes to be exempted.

"Families who have had to leave their homes and will need to have them repaired because of flood damage should not be asked to pay council tax," shadow communities and local government secretary Hilary Benn said.

"The government should admit that it was a mistake to have changed the law to take away the former provisions giving automatic council tax exemptions when properties are empty and require repairs to make them habitable in cases of flooding."

The gambit marks another attempt by the opposition to secure political advantage from the flooding, which has affected an estimated 5,800 households.

The biggest victim of the flooding crisis appears to be environment secretary Owen Paterson, who observers have noted has found himself sidelined in the government on his own portfolio.

He has been criticised by the Ecologist as "the worst environment secretary ever" and was mocked by Greenpeace activists afloat on the Thames by Westminster: