Tuesday, 20 April 2010

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.