CAMPAIGNERS in Kinver have celebrated a victory for people power after seeing off a stealth tax requiring residents to fund repairs to the village church wall.

South Staffordshire Council had told people living in Kinver that there would be an extra charge levied on their council tax bills for 2024-5 to pay for £130,000 of repair work to the boundary wall at St Peter’s Church.

Villagers were informed they would have to pay between £26.15 and £78.44 extra towards the work (depending on their council tax band) as the council was enacting a special expense clause under the Local Government Act 1992 which allows an extra council tax charge to be applied to residents living in the parish of a closed churchyard.

The demand, last autumn, sparked widespread anger from villagers and a campaign group KAST (Kinver Against Stealth Tax) group was set up.

The group bombarded the council with letters, emails, FOI requests and phone calls and the campaign resulted in Lib Dems Greg Spruce, Steph Dufty and Dr Paul Harrison being elected to serve the village on South Staffordshire Council in the May local election.

Since then, the trio have been on a mission to stop the Conservative administration’s ‘wall tax’ which the local authority said was necessary after Kinver Parish Council passed on responsibility for the churchyard to the district council.

Cllr Spruce said: “We proactively met, right from the off, with the council’s chief executive and senior officers pleading our case that the charge was unfair and undeliverable.”

And after meetings with councillor Roger Lees, leader of the council, and councillor Kath Perry, cabinet member, and a debate at July’s overview and scrutiny committee – it has now been confirmed that the charge has been scrapped.

It’s understood the council intends to utilise a projected treasury windfall for 2023/24 to support the cost of repairs at closed churchyards and the authority will then budget £25k a year thereafter.

A spokesperson for South Staffordshire Council said: “Residents will no longer be expected to pay a one-off contribution to repair the wall at St Peter’s Church in Kinver.

“An explanatory letter will be sent to residents shortly.

“The council has allocated a total of £240,000 towards the cost of repairs at all closed churchyards across the district as a result of prudent financial management.

“The higher than anticipated rate of interest returns from its investments in 2023/24 means it has been able to set this sum aside.

“The council recognised that the cost-of-living crisis is having an impact on families, and residents may have been concerned about this proposal. It is hope that the decision will go some way to alleviating some of these concerns.”

Cllr Spruce said of the news: “We are delighted, last week that, the Conservative administration have made a U-turn on charging residents and put in place a fair system to fund future churchyard repairs here in Kinver and across the district.

“This was a victory for people power. Ever since former councillor Len Bates’ letter arrived on Kinver doormats last November, residents were furious and determined to stop a frankly unfair and politically toxic charge being added to every household in the parish.”