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.


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