Monday, 3 May 2010

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Following the first publication of this website on 19 February 2009, the Valuation Office Agency's Chief Executive, Andrew Hudson, was unexpectedly moved to H M Treasury and it was announced (in early March 2009) that the Adjudicator, Barbara Mills, was to quit. 

Introduction

This website sets out to show how incompetent Valuation Office Agency staff neglect to correct errors in the Valuation List (Council Tax List); the shenanigans they use to conceal their mistakes; the dilatory manner they deal with complaints; and their reluctance to enforce their statutory duty to maintain the Council Tax List.

It will also show how the Adjudicator, Dame Barbara Mills (criticised and discredited by the High Court), disregards the rules of natural justice, conceals incriminating evidence, misrepresents facts, and upholds the actions of inept Valuation Office staff.

Following the first publication of this website on 19 February 2009, the VOA's Chief Executive, Andrew Hudson, was unexpectedly moved to H M Treasury and it was announced (in early March 2009) that the Adjudicator, Barbara Mills, was to quit. 

This website would not have been published had the Valuation Office Agency dealt with the resident who had notified them of errors and inconsistencies in the Council Tax List in accordance with their Council Tax Manual procedures and Code of Practice on complaints. They chose not to do so. Instead they decided to ignore the errors and hoped to get away with sweeping the issue under the carpet. The result was they dug themselves into a hole of lies and deceit that has come to haunt them.

When the Valuation Office Agency treat members of the public with contempt, they must expect to be treated likewise.



The Carlisle Case - Pennine View and Pennine View Close Carlisle (summary)

This case concerns a new estate built between 2001 and 2003. The Valuation Office Agency made a complete mess of the Council Tax (CT) bands of the estate. 47 of the 66 houses and bungalows were put in the wrong band.

Inept Valuation Office staff put adjacent identical properties in different bands; adjacent identical bungalows were in band B and D; adjacent identical houses in band C and D. The most expensive 4 and 5 bedroom houses were in band C, a lower band than the less expensive 3 bedroom houses, and the same band as the least expensive 2 bedroom bungalows. An idiot had assessed the Council Tax bands of the estate.

When a resident notified the Carlisle Valuation Office of the obvious errors and inconsistencies in the Council Tax bands, the Valuation Office Agency ignored the evidence submitted, and took no substantive action to rectify the anomalies for over 5 months. The resident had to pursue a complaint to the Valuation Office's Chief Executive before the bungling officers at Carlisle Valuation Office amended the errors in the Council Tax List. Initially, the officers failed to correct all the inconsistencies and had to alter the bands of 2 further properties after the resident told them of their error. It took 8 months to complete a review of 66 properties, but there were only 11 different property types.

Of the 66 houses and bungalows, 71% were in the wrong band. The Valuation Office reduced the band of 38 properties, increased the band of 9 properties (some by 2 bands), and 19 remained unchanged.

The Adjudicator, Dame Barbara Mills, (who was criticised and discredited by the High Court for perverse and flawed decisions) disregarded the rules of natural justice and denied the complainant the opportunity to see or comment on the Valuation Office's evidence, deliberately misrepresented the facts, and wilfully concealed incriminating evidence.

The Adjudicator comes to the absurd, perverse, irrational, and unhinged decision that the Valuation Office's Code of Practice on complaints does not apply to the complainant (when it specifically states this code applies to all ratepayers, council tax payers and others whose affairs we deal with), and upholds the dilatory actions and malpractices of inept VOA staff.

In 1992 it took 8 months to complete the Council Tax banding of 22 million residential properties in England, of which approximately 1/3 were undertaken by the Valuation Office Agency. In 2008, the Carlisle Valuation Office 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.

Photographs - Council Tax Band Bungles - Pennine View, Carlisle

Below are some examples of the many Council Tax band errors and inconsistencies in Pennine View, Carlisle (courtesy of Google Street View - requires Abode Flash enabled). Click Google Street View links and take a tour.

27 & 29 Pennine View 
Adjacent pair of identical 3 bedroom link detached houses; one was in band D and the other in band C.

31 & 33 Pennine View
These are 5 and 4 bedroom detached houses (one with double garage) the largest on the estate; they were both in band C. Both were increased to band E.

27, 29, 31 & 33 Pennine View
From left to right are numbers 27, 29, 31, and 33, and the respective bands were: band D, band C, band C and band C. They were amended to band C, band C, band E and band E respectively. 

21, 23, 25 Pennine View
These 4 bedroom detached houses were in band C (a band lower than most of the smaller 3 bedroom houses on the estate). All were amended to band D.

65 & 67 Pennine View
Adjacent identical 3 bedroom link detached bungalows; one was in band B and the other in band D.

59, 61, and 63 Pennine View
Three identical 3 bedroom detached bungalows; two were in band C and the third in band D. In the foreground (on the right) is an identical 3 bedroom bungalow except it is link detached; it was in band B.

The Adjudicator, Barbara Mills, criticised and discredited by High Court

As Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Dame 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.

In the year ending 31 March 2009, the Adjudicator, Barbara Mills, investigated 41 complaints about the Valuation Office Agency, of which 31 were completed, and only 5 upheld. The Adjudicator recommended the VOA pay compensation to complainants totalling £320 (£64 per complaint upheld).

No wonder so few complaints are upheld when the Adjudicator breaches the rules of natural justice by denying a complainant the right to see or comment on the VOA's evidence, and has been caught out deliberately conceal incriminating evidence of VOA wrongdoing.  

References

Named and shamed

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.

If any statement published herein relating to any of the above named persons were untrue or incorrect, they could pursue an action for defamation. None of the named persons has done so, nor is it likely that they will do so as all statements herein relating to the above named persons are documented and known to be true.

 

The three wise monkeys are a pictorial maxim. Together they embody the proverbial principle to "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil". The phrase is often used to refer to those who deal with impropriety by looking the other way, refusing to acknowledge it, or feigning ignorance.

Three wise monkeys




Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Lowestoft Case - Crestview Drive Lowestoft (summary)

This long running case has involved senior officials of the Valuation Office Agency, Valuation Tribunals, the  Adjudicator, Bob Blizzard MP, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, and Ministers. It is an episode in the history of the VOA they should be ashamed of. But the Valuation Office Agency still haven't learnt their lesson.

Two years after the introduction of Council Tax, the Valuation Office Agency notified a number of the residents that the Council Tax band of their properties were incorrect, and would be increased from band B to C. A year later, the VOA then informed some of those same residents that band C was incorrect, and the Council Tax band would be increased to band D.

Residents discovered that similar or identical bungalow types were in different Council Tax bands and there was no consistency in the banding over the whole estate.

A Director of the Valuation Office Agency admitted in a letter: it is with very much regret that I have to agree with your comment that the VO has made a complete shambles of banding the properties in Crestview Drive.

Eight years later, the Valuation Office Agency made derisory ex gratia payments to some residents as compensation for the errors they made.

Valuation Office Agency covers up Council Tax band errors

Eric Pickles (the Conservative MP for Brentwood & Ongar) has exposed how the Valuation Office Agency and the government deliberately covered up known errors in Council Tax bands.

Minutes of the Valuation Office Agency's Council Tax Revaluation Programme Board of 22 November 2005 revealed the cover up. Parts of the minutes were blacked out (redacted) with a note indicating an ongoing policy issue. But bungling officers at the VOA had failed to blackout the text properly, and so the full text was revealed.

The blacked out text revealed the following:

MJ questioned what action should be taken by Groups on consequentials identified following data enhancement. Concern was expressed about the possible knock on implications for billing authorities and adverse press coverage this could generate in the current climate. Action Point – TE to establish potential numbers involved with GVOs. Action will then be agreed with ODPM and Ministers”. (This item has been redacted, as it remains an ongoing policy issue).

The word consequentials is a euphemism for errors in the Council Tax List. Further data from the revaluation programme had identified mistakes in the Council Tax List. VOA Board members were concerned about the financial implications of this on councils and adverse press coverage. Councils would have to pay substantial backdated Council Tax refunds if properties were in too high a band, or if the band were too low, households would be faced with an unpopular Council Tax increase. The VOA were more concerned with adverse press coverage than correcting their mistakes.

The government and Valuation Office Agency tried to cover up known errors in the Council Tax List and deliberately tried to conceal the fact by falsely referring to it as an ongoing policy issue.

The Valuation Office Agency has a statutory duty to compile and maintain the Council Tax List (section 22 of Local Government Finance Act 1992), and that duty includes the responsibility to correct any errors in the List. The VOA website states:

The Valuation Office Agency is committed to ensuring that all homes are in the correct council tax band.

This statement is a sham. The Valuation Office Agency knowingly conceal errors in the Council Tax List, are reluctant to any correct errors, and are more concerned about bad publicity and the financial effect on councils.

References

The Adjudicator

Adjudicator's Report 2009 (press release)

Barbara Mills to quit post as Director of Public Prosecution




David Mills (wife of Tessa Jowell MP)

VOA Council Tax Cover Ups and Blunders