Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Carlisle Case - Pennine View and Pennine View Close Carlisle

Page Contents
  1. Introduction 
  2. What happened
  3. The evidence the Valuation Office Agency and the Adjudicator conceal and the facts they wilfully misrepresent
  4. Valuation Office Agency conceal their mistakes under the guise of confidentiality
  5. The Valuation Office Agency lies and deceit
  6. The Adjudicator's perverse and flawed decision on the Valuation Office Agency's Code of Practice
  7. The Adjudicator, Barbara Mills
Introduction

This case concerns a new estate built between 2001 and 2003. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) made a complete mess of the Council Tax bands of the 66 houses and bungalows.

What happened

2 November 2007. A resident notified the Valuation Office Agency of errors and inconsistencies in the Council Tax bands of numerous houses and bungalows on the estate. No reference was made to the 44 flats.

13 November 2007. Valuation Office Agency responded with a stock letter stating that the VOA had completed their review, that they did not agree that a different Valuation Band should apply to the resident's property, and they did not intend altering the Valuation List entry.

The resident contacts the case officer, Karen Crawford, and asks why their letter says they did not agree a different band should apply to the resident's property when he had not stated that his property was in the wrong band, or even referred to his property in his letter. The resident's letter merely referred to inconsistencies in the bands of other identical properties on the estate. Crawford said she had misinterpreted the resident's letter. The resident's letter was quite clear and specific.

The resident requests confirmation whether the Valuation Office Agency had made any alterations to the Valuation List relating to any other properties as the VOA's letter specifically stated that they had completed their review. Crawford said she could not discuss details of other properties. The resident knew no alterations had been made. The Valuation List is published on the VOA's website and in the public domain.

The resident asked Crawford to say whether any alterations would be made to the Valuation List. Crawford declined to comment or confirm that any band errors would be corrected.

Resident asks Crawford why she had determined his property was in the correct band without determining whether the other properties were in the correct band. Crawford said they would be looking into the others. That was contrary to the Valuation Office Agency's procedures. VOA procedures requires them to consider all the estate at once, not individual properties in a piecemeal fashion.

The resident asked Crawford why identical adjacent houses on similar size plots were in different Council Tax bands. She declined to answer, and refused to explain why they were in different bands.

The resident asked Crawford why identical adjacent bungalows are in band B and band D. Again she declined to answer, and refused to explain why they were in different bands.

The resident asked Crawford to explain why a larger and more expensive property on the estate was in a lower band than his property if, as the Listing Officer stated in his letter, his property was in the correct band. Crawford refused to give a reason.

The resident requests Crawford to confirm whether she had inspected the other properties on the estate. Crawford refused to say. The resident knew she had not done so. The resident had witnessed Crawford drive past his property and drive off the estate without inspecting any of the other properties. Crawford did not deny this when the resident put this allegation to her.

15 November 2007. Resident submits complaint to Carlisle Valuation Office Agency.

5 December 2007. Carlisle VOA confirms that a senior officer would carry out a review (their letter of 13 November 2007 falsely stated they had already completed a review of the properties).

3 February 2008. Resident makes further complaint to Carlisle VOA for their failure to complete a review.

13 March 2008. Resident refers complaint to the Chief Executive of the VOA as the review had not been completed.

24 April 2008. Chief Executive's Office (CEO) acknowledges that mistakes have been made in the banding of properties, that the time limit for dealing with such cases is normally 2 months, and the Carlisle VO expect to complete the review by the end of May.

16 June 2008. CEO confirmed the review had been completed and alterations made to the Council Tax List. But they hadn't rectified all the errors. There were still inconsistencies in the bands of 2 of the properties.

It had taken the Carlisle VO over 7 months to review 66 houses and bungalows, of which there were only 11 different property types, and they still couldn't complete the task correctly.

17 July 2008. CEO confirmed a further 2 entries in the Council Tax List had been amended. The CEO also stated that the VOA's Code of Practice on complaints entitled Putting Things Right did not apply to the resident. The Code of Practice clearly states that this code applies to all ratepayers, council tax payers and others whose affairs we deal with.

It took the Carlisle VO over 8 months to complete a review of 11 different property types. That is an appalling record. Of the 66 houses and bungalows, 71% were in the wrong band. The LO reduced the band of 38 properties, increased the band of 9 properties (some by 2 bands), and 19 remained unchanged.

1 September 2008. Resident refers complaint to the Adjudicator to determine whether the VOA's Code of Practice applied. The Code of Practice clearly states that this code applies to all ratepayers, council tax payers and others whose affairs we deal with.

15 January 2009. The Adjudicator, Barbara Mills, (who was criticised and discredited by the High Court for perverse and flawed decisions) declined to uphold the complaint and comes to the perverse, irrational, unhinged, and fundamentally flawed decision that the VOA's Code of Practice does not apply to the resident.

The Adjudicator disregarded the rules of natural justice and denied the complainant the opportunity to see or comment on the VOA's evidence, deliberately misrepresented the facts, concealed incriminating evidence, and upheld the dilatory actions and malpractices of the inept VOA staff.

Now lets examine how the Valuation Office Agency and the Adjudicator misrepresents the facts, conceals incriminating evidence, peddles the lies and deceit of incompetent VOA staff, and upholds the dilatory actions and malpractices of the VOA.

The evidence the Valuation Office Agency and the Adjudicator conceal and the facts they wilfully misrepresent 

The Listing Officer (LO) had decided to treat the resident's (complainant's) letter of 2 November 2007 as a query against the Council Tax band of the resident's property. That was a mistake and contrary to the VOA's procedures. The residents letter was headed Complaint - Council Tax Valuation Banding - Pennine View and Pennine View Close and did not refer to the resident's property.

The VOA's Council Tax Manual says that where anomalies in bands are disclosed by a third party, the Council Tax Team leader will personally instigate the assembling of all the evidence to establish whether further action is required and inform/discuss with the Group Valuation Officer (GVO) at an early stage and, where that involves more than 10 dwellings, a full and detailed review of all the various types of property in the street and immediate locality shall be carried out and ...the Listing Officer should discuss the case with the Director of Council Tax before any action is taken. This did not occur. The Listing Officer (LO) determined the band of one property type, and notified the complainant, without following these procedures.

The Listing Officer wrote on 13 November 2007, I have now completed my review and taken into account the points you raised .... I have looked at the pattern of bandings in your area and the evidence of sales that took place around April 1991, which is the date of valuation for all council tax bandings. .... There are occasions where other properties are in a lower band as a result of an error.... I will consider whether the bandings of any other properties in the area need to be increased.

Contrary to VOA procedures, the Council Tax Team leader did not personally instigate assembling of all evidence to establish whether further action is required prior to the LO issuing the letter of 13 November 2007. The case officer, Crawford, was not the CT Team leader. The LO's letter claims they had looked at the bands of other properties in the area and the sales evidence, and then made a decision not to alter the band of the complainant's property. But at that point in time the LO had not carried out a full and detailed review of the other properties. Crawford hadn't inspected the other properties. Crawford hadn't involved the CT Team leader, nor had the GVO been informed before the LO's letter was sent. The GVO was not involved until February 2008. Nor had the LO discussed the case with the Director of Council Tax before the LO took action and sent his letter. The VOA and the Adjudicator deliberately conceals this evidence and wilfully misrepresents the facts.

The LO's letter of 13 November 2007 says I have now completed my review and taken into account the points you raised .... There are occasions where other properties are in a lower band as a result of an error .... and .... I will consider whether the bandings of any other properties in the area need to be increased.

If the LO had completed his review he should know what other properties are in the wrong band. In fact the LO hadn't completed the review. Crawford hadn't inspected the other properties. Crawford didn't know what other properties were in a wrong band. Furthermore, the LO doesn't say he will correct any errors, only that he will consider doing so, and he might not.

The LO has a statutory duty to maintain the Council Tax List and correct any errors. If the LO knows a property is in the wrong band he should correct the error, and say so in his letter. An entry in the CT List is deemed to be correct until it is altered. The LO should not have made a decision on the complainant's property before completing a review of all the other properties, and after correcting any errors in the List.

The VOA procedures require the CT Team leader to carry out a review of all types of properties in the immediate locality not, as the LO and Crawford did, to look at one individual property, and then the others in a piecemeal fashion at a later date.

The Adjudicator remarks that reviewing the band of the complainant's property at the start of the exercise was somewhat premature. In fact it was not just premature, it was contrary to the VOA's procedures which requires them to review all property types in the locality before taking any action and making a decision. It was also reckless to do so as it in effect prejudiced and compromised their decisions on the other properties.

The VOA and the Adjudicator deliberately concealed the above evidence, and wilfully misrepresented the facts.

The Adjudicator finds that the VOA complied with their CT Manual procedures; the VOA simply did not do it within what you [the complainant] considered to be a reasonable time scale.

Such a finding is irrational, perverse, unhinged, flawed and contrary to the evidence. It is like saying if you make a mistake by not following procedures, then correct the mistake by subsequently following those procedures, you never made a mistake in the first place. That is absurd, illogical, irrational and perverse. But then the Adjudicator deliberately misrepresented the facts, concealed the incriminating evidence, and has previously been discredited by the High Court for perverse and flawed decisions.

Valuation Office Agency conceal their mistakes under the guise of confidentiality

Crawford told the resident she misinterpreted his letter of 2 November 2007 as a query against the band of his property. That was a lame excuse. The fact was that Crawford had made the mistake of not following the VOA's procedures. The resident's letter was quite clear and specific. It did not specifically query the band of his property. It referred to inconsistencies in the bands of numerous properties in Pennine View and Pennine View Close. No one with a basic grasp of the English language would misinterpret the letter.

The resident complained at Crawford's refusal to discuss the Council Tax bands of other properties or say whether alterations to bands would be made. The Valuation Officer (VO) wrote that Crawford was correct to do so. In other words, the LO will not discuss or explain why identical properties in the same locality are in different bands, or whether they will correct any inconsistencies. The LO considers that he does not have to answer to the current entries in the CT List. This is clearly nonsense and incorrect.

The Customer Service Manager (CSM), Bill Noblet, and the Valuation Officer, Jim Gallagher, in subsequent letters referred to their duty of confidentiality and data protection under the provisions of the Commissioners for Revenue & Customs Act 2005, the Data Protection Act 1998, and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. They implied that this legislation prevents them from discussing the bands of other properties. That is incorrect. They do not understand the legislation. The legislation does not prevent VOA staff discussing the bands of other properties, provided they do not disclose confidential or personal data. The resident had not asked Crawford to disclose personal or confidential data. The CT bands of other properties are in the public domain.

The VOA contradict themselves. For instance the VO, Jim Gallagher, wrote on 14 March 2008, whilst we can talk about and correspond with you about information held that supports the band of your property we are not in a position to do so about other properties ..... and .... we may be breaching the respective Data Protection principles of the respective council tax payer if we indicate to you what we intend to do, prior to amending the List.

But CEO Customer Service Officer, Jacky Sargent, wrote on 24 April 2008, having looked at the records of 12 of the 15 bandings you have highlighted, I completely agree that mistakes appear to have been made. It is clear that properties that should be similarly banded are not and others of superior accommodation are banded lower than others that we would expect to be of a lower value. The other two appear to be correctly banded according to our records, which suggests are records are wrong..... and ..... the local office expect to make the corrections to the List by the end of May.

The statement by Sargent refers to properties other than the complainants, and indicates what the VOA intend to do prior to amending the List. According to the Carlisle VO and CSM, this statement breaches the confidentiality and/or data protection principles of the Commissioners for Revenue & Customs Act 2005, the Data Protection Act 1998, and the Freedom of Information Act 2000. That is quite clearly nonsense. The statement does not disclose any personal or confidential data. The fact is the Carlisle VO and CSM either do not understand the legislation, or deliberately misrepresent the legislation in an attempt to cover up errors in the List rather than to correct them.

The Valuation Office Agency lies and deceit

The Listing Officer took 5 days to carry out a review of the complainant's property. The LO stated this included consideration of the points raised by the complainant, the pattern of banding in the area, and the sales evidence around April 1991. The LO then took over 7 months to review a further 10 property types on the same estate, when he had already (according to his letter) carried out a review, looked at the banding and sales evidence, and the points the complainant had raised about inconsistencies in the bands of other properties.

It is clear the LO's letter of 13 November 2007 was a pack of lies and deceit. A review hadn't been completed in accordance with procedures set out in the CT Manual; the LO hadn't looked at all the 11 property types referred to by the complainant in his letter, or the bands of those properties. The LO had taken no substantive action prior to the resident referring his complaint to the CEO. The resident believed the LO had no intention of completing a review of the other 10 property types had he not complained to the CEO. The LO's records of some of the properties were incorrect, and after 5 months he had not even bothered to resurvey them; a fact confirmed by Sargent on 24 April 2008.

The CSO, Jacky Sargent, wrote on 24 April 2008, I was also surprised at the length of time this review is taking as we would normally hope to make such changes within 2 months .... but certain types on the estate need to be resurveyed before the final decision is taken and the list amendments made.

After 7 months the LO completed his review, but there were still inconsistencies in respect of 2 of the properties. The complainant informed the CEO. But the complainant shouldn't have to notify the VOA of their mistakes. It took the Carlisle VO another month to correct the errors. The VOA then tried to misrepresent the facts.

Sargent wrote on 17 July 2008, it was necessary for the LO to amend the list entries of these properties in two distinct stages because of effective date considerations. That was incorrect and a misrepresentation of the facts. The VOA had failed to reduce the band of one property in line with all the others of its type. For the other property, the VOA had failed to take account that it had been extended and subsequently sold. Either the VOA had not flagged the sale or they had not bothered to inspect it when carrying out their review.

The Valuation Office Agency deliberately misrepresent the above facts and conceal evidence of their deceit from the Adjudicator.

The Adjudicator disregards the rules of natural justice and denied the complainant the opportunity to comment on the evidence the VOA submitted to the Adjudicator. The Adjudicator deliberately concealed the VOA's evidence.

The Adjudicator claims to be independent, fair and impartial. Such a claim is a sham. An Adjudicator who denies a complainant the right to comment on or challenge the VOA's evidence is neither fair or impartial. They are clearly biased.

The Adjudicator remarks that it was not unreasonable that such a wide ranging review, which consisted of reviewing over 100 individual properties, would take longer than the normal 2 months..... and the VOA's explanations for the delay are reasonable.

In fact there were 66 houses and bungalows, but only 11 different property types. It should take no more than 2 staff working days to complete a review of this magnitude. The VOA's time limit for completing a review is 2 months. It is unreasonable for the Carlisle LO to take 8 months to complete a review that should have been done in 2 months.

In 1992 it took 8 months to complete the CT banding of 22 million residential properties in England, of which approximately 1/3 were undertaken by the VOA. In 2008, the Carlisle VO took the same time to review the bands of 66 properties. The Adjudicator considered this to be reasonable. That just about sums up her perverse and flawed decisions.

Anyone who considers it reasonable to take 8 months to review the bands of 66 properties is completely out of touch with the real world, lacks any experience of property valuation, or is living on a different planet to the rest of us.

The Adjudicator's perverse and flawed decision on the VOA Code of Practice

The VOA's Code of Practice states that this code applies to all ratepayers, council tax payers and others whose affairs we deal with. The Code of Practice clearly applies to the complainant as a council tax payer or otherwise. Errors or anomalies in the bands of other properties may have implications on the band of the complainant's property.

The Adjudicator, Barbara Mills, (who was criticised and discredited by the High Court for perverse and flawed decisions) decides that the VOA's Code of Practice does not apply to the complainant because the general interpretation and application of the Code of Practice is that it is in relation to an individual's own affairs; that is to say the council tax banding, business rates, or other valuations in respect of a property to which they have a legal interest.

This decision is absurd, perverse, irrational, and fundamentally flawed. There is no such statement in the Code of Practice about the interpretation or application of the Code of Practice. In law the courts have held that documents should in general be strictly interpreted. It is therefore perverse for the Adjudicator to assume an interpretation and application of the Code of Practice that is not written into the Code of Practice.

The Adjudicator's decision is irrational. If the Code of Practice does not apply, a resident has no right to pursue a complaint against the VOA where they fail to enforce their statutory duty to maintain the Council Tax List and correct known errors where neighbouring properties are in the wrong band. In other words, if the Code of Practice does not apply, the LO can with impunity ignore his statutory duty to maintain the CT List.

The Adjudicator recommends the VOA change the wording of the Code of Practice in line with her perverse decision. This recommendation substantiates the complainant's opinion that the Code of Practice does apply, otherwise the VOA would not need to amend the wording of it. The Adjudicator's decision is clearly perverse, irrational and fundamentally flawed.

The Adjudicator, Barbara Mills

The Adjudicator claims to be independent, fair and impartial. Such a claim is a sham. The Adjudicator wilfully denied the complainant the opportunity to see or comment on the VOA's evidence, deliberately concealed incriminating evidence, manipulated facts in favour of the VOA, and makes perverse, irrational, unhinged and flawed decisions.

As Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Barbara Mills, resigned after being criticised by the High Court for repeatedly failing to justify decisions not to prosecute police officers over deaths in police custody in 3 separate cases (Lapite, O’Brien and Treadaway).

In 1997 Lord Justice Rose said that Barbara Mills of the CPS made flawed decisions not to prosecute four ex-members of the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad who allegedly handcuffed a suspect and put a plastic bag over his head to gain a confession. The High Court ruling said the way the decision was reached was a breach of the department's Code for Crown Prosecutors and was perverse and flawed by failing to give reasons. The High Court said Barbara Mills should reconsider the case. This was the third occasion within a week in which the Court has questioned the way the DPP has handled allegations of police violence.

The Adjudicator, Barbara Mills, has a history of making flawed decisions. Bad habits die hard. Barbara Mills who was criticised and discredited by the High Court when DPP, continues today to make perverse, irrational, unhinged and flawed decisions.

Valuation Office Agency - Carlisle

Karen Crawford         Referencer
Bill Noblet                 Customer Service Manager (CSM)
Jim Gallagher            Listing Officer (LO) & Valuation Officer (VO)
Jim Gallagher            Group Valuation Officer (GVO)

Valuation Office Agency - Chief Executive's Office

Louise Tapsell            Manager Customer Service Team
Jacky Sargent             Customer Service Team Officer (CSO)
Andrew Hudson          Chief Executive

The Adjudicator's Office

Maria Foord                Adjudication Officer
Barbara Mills              Adjudicator

The Adjudicator, like the Local Government Ombudsman, is as impartial as a bent copper.