Feb 12 2007

Council tax cover-up: New evidence of serious errors in council tax bills

Surge in council tax appeals in Harrow reveals systematic over-charging by Government

Gordon Brown and his Ministers are deliberately covering up serious problems over the banding of homes for council tax, Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Harrow East, warned.. New figures have revealed that Whitehall’s council tax snoopers have been forced to redo the council tax bands of thousands of homes after appeals by householders across Harrow and the country.

  • Official papers from Gordon Brown’s council tax inspectors, the Valuation Office Agency, have admitted that many homes are in the wrong band for council tax and families have been paying over the odds for years. Accidentally leaked minutes have confessed that if the tax errors became known, the Government would lose money and would have to pay tax refunds. This was also ruled out since it would generate “adverse press coverage… in the current climate”.
  • The combination of a campaign by ‘Money Saving Expert’ Martin Lewis, the publication of these leaked minutes and an ITV Tonight documentary, has produced a surge in council tax appeals. Now Parliamentary Questions have forced the Government to publish detailed figures on the changes to council tax bands.
  • In the last three years, 190,000 existing homes have had their council tax band changed: 133,985 homes have moved down a band. In Harrow, 321 homes have moved down a council tax band as a result of appeals. This proves there are serious and systematic errors in the banding of homes, which Ministers have been covering up to save money.
  • Wales has been used as a test-bed for a council tax revaluation. Three times as many homes moved up a band as down. Yet since that 2005 revaluation, a succession of errors has also been uncovered with the Valuation Office Agency’s work. To date, 1 in 20 homes in Wales have had their post-revaluation banding corrected. A wholesale council tax revaluation has thus caused more problems than it solved.

Bob Blackman said:

“We now have clear evidence of a council tax cover-up. The Labour Government has been caught red-handed fiddling council tax to make families in Harrow and across the country pay more. Whitehall bureaucrats know that many homes across the country are wrongly banded, but have refused to correct the tax inspectors’ errors to save the Government money and save face.

“The whole basis of our tax system is undermined if the state conspires to over-charge the public. Labour Ministers only want to reform the council tax system if it rakes in extra cash for Gordon Brown’s coffers.”

Notes to Editors

LABOUR’S COUNCIL TAX COVER-UP

Council tax bills vary according to the banding of a property; for example, a Band E house pays 22% a year more than a Band D house (or £315 a year more for a typical home in England).

Last year, Labour Ministers were forced to publish the minutes of the Valuation Office Agency’s Council Tax Revaluation Programme Board. The Valuation Office Agency are England’s council tax inspectors, and are an arm of HM Revenue & Customs.

The minutes show the fallout after the controversial plans for an English council tax revaluation in May 2007 were postponed in October 2005. The Revaluation Board minutes include a series of comments which are blacked out, since they relate to “an ongoing policy issue”. However, the PDF file of the electronic minutes produced in answer to the Parliamentary Question did not completely black out the redacted elements, and in an embarrassing blunder by officials, the original text underneath can be uncovered under the blacked out sections.

Original minutes – with comments blacked out

http://www.conservatives.com/pdf/DEP2008-0478-original.pdf

Amended minutes with redacted comments uncovered

http://www.conservatives.com/pdf/DEP2008-0478-withfulltext.pdf

The secret comments show that the revaluation exercise identified certain homes in certain streets were currently wrongly banded, and are paying over the odds (so-called ‘consequentials’). Yet Ministers covered up this information due to the implications: having to pay refunds and lose money and the subsequent bad press coverage. The secret minutes stated:

“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).

Ministers have subsequently admitted that officials blew the whistle internally on the errors.

“Mrs. Lait: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer to the hon. Member for Bromley of 1 July 2008,  Official Report, column 787W, on council tax: valuation, what the evidential basis was for the observations on the number of consequentials made in the minutes of the meeting of the Programme Board.

John Healey: The observations referred to were made on the basis of ongoing feedback from staff who had been undertaking work, up to that time, on the revaluation.”

Hansard, 15 October 2008, col. 1305W.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm081015/text/81015w0028.htm 08101568000442

SURGE IN APPEALS REVEALED WIDESPREAD ERRORS

Financial guru, Martin Lewis (‘Money Saving Expert’), has run a big campaign on errors in council tax banding, highlighting errors by the Valuation Office Agency. Combined with the cover-up exposed by Conservatives, this has lead to a surge in the number of council tax appeals, following a television special by ITV Tonight.

http://www.itv.com/News/tonight/episodes/Counciltaxcoverup/default.html (Tonight: Council Tax cover up, 7 March 2008).

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6296849.stm (BBC News Online, “Homeowners must check tax band”, 25 January 2007.

When a home is placed in too high a council tax band, any subsequent refund can date back for years, incurring considerable cost to the Exchequer. New Parliamentary Questions by Conservatives have forced Ministers to publish new details exposing the scale of errors to existing council tax banding of homes across England, following that the surge in appeals.

“Mr. Stewart Jackson: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government with reference to the supplementary memorandum from the Valuation Office Agency presented to the Treasury Select Committee, dated 29 October 2008, which amendments to the council tax valuation lists involving movements to a lower band were made in each billing authority in each of the years to March (a) 2006, (b) 2007 and (c) 2008.

John Healey: This information is currently being assembled for publication. I will place a copy in the Library of the House as soon as possible.”

Hansard, 13 March 2009, col. 765W.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090313/text/90313w0002.htm column_765W

“Mrs. Spelman:  To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government pursuant to the answer of 13 March 2009,  Official Report, column 765W, on council tax: valuation, when she plans to place in the Library a copy of the information referred to in the answer.

John Healey: A copy of the information referred to has been placed in the Library.”

Hansard, 15 May 2009, col. 1039W.

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmhansrd/cm090515/text/90515w0007.htm 09051566003984

full data: http://www.parliament.uk/deposits/depositedpapers/2009/DEP2009-1448.zip

Based on the data provided, analysis below shows how many existing homes (excluding new build and demolitions) have moved up or down a council tax band between 2005-06 and 2007-08 in each local authority across England.

It shows that almost 135,000 homes have had their council tax band moved down, with a further 53,000 homes having their council tax band moved up. Moving up is generally due to significant material changes to a property – such as building a new extension – which can trigger a rebanding after a property is sold.

WELSH REVALUATION LEADS TO EVEN MORE COUNCIL TAX ERRORS

A revaluation is not needed to correct council tax banding errors. It is already the case that anyone can make an appeal against their current council tax banding. Indeed, a revaluation would potentially create more errors not less. In the Welsh council tax revaluation in 2005, four times as many homes moved up a band as moved down a band.

Ministers have now admitted that there have been a series of errors with the new council tax bands in Wales, with to date, almost 5 per cent of all homes in Wales having retrospectively to change their banding AFTER the revaluation. Source: http://www.voa.gov.uk/council_tax/informal-appeals/informal-appeals.htm

COUNCIL TAX ERRORS IN ENGLAND – FULL LIST OF LOCAL ERRORS

Changes to council tax bands of existing homes (2005-08)

Dwellings moving up a council tax band

Dwellings moving down a council tax band

 

England

52,728

133,985

Brent

81

270 

Harrow

284

321

Feb 12 2007

ID Cards – Another move towards the Police State

ID Cards won’t work, will waste money and will treat you like a criminal. State plans to fingerprint every citizen in Harrow – and charge you for the privilege.

Councillor Bob Blackman Assemblyman for Brent & Harrow added his support to a new campaign against Labour’s plans for ID Cards. Conservative Party leader, David Cameron, has pledged to scrap the controversial £20 billion scheme.

Under the Labour Government’s plans for ID cards:

  • Every citizen will fingerprinted and interviewed, and forced to travel at their own expense to a regional centre. The nearest centre to Harrow is in Central London.
  • Each person will have to pay at least £93 for a combined ID card and passport package.
  • If the card is lost or stolen, the replacement fee will be at least £30. If you get married and change your name, you will have to pay for a new card as well.

Bob Blackman remarked,

“ID cards are a bad idea. They will do nothing to improve the safety of our citizens. They are not the answer to the threat of terrorism, to benefit fraud, illegal immigration, human trafficking or to identity theft. They are a waste of money, and a Conservative Government will abolish them.

“The Labour Government’s plans are to make ID Cards compulsory for everyone, and force people to pay to be fingerprinted by the State. Instead of these intrusive, expensive and ineffective ID Cards, the money should be spent on more worthwhile projects to cut crime – such as a dedicated UK Border Police, more prison spaces and increasing the number of residential drug rehabilitation places.

Notes to Editors

NEW CAMPAIGN AGAINST ID CARDS

Conservatives have launched a new campaign against ID cards.

High-resolution artwork used in the campaign can be downloaded from:

http://www.p-d.uk.com/conservativesidcampaign/ (copyright permission is given to reproduce).

THE CASE AGAINST ID CARDS

ID cards won’t work

  • ID cards won’t prevent terrorist attacks: The former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, has admitted that ID cards would not have prevented the 7 July 2005 bombings in London, saying: ‘I doubt if it would have made a difference’. In Spain, ID cards are compulsory, but they did not stop the Madrid bombings in March 2004.
  • ID cards won’t prevent illegal immigration: Foreign visitors will not have to have an ID card, unless they plan to stay in the UK for more than three months.
  • ID cards won’t prevent identity fraud: Microsoft’s National Technology Officer, Jerry Fishenden, has said that introducing ID cards could make identity fraud worse, warning that it could ‘trigger massive identity fraud on a scale on a scale beyond anything we have seen before’.
  • ID cards won’t prevent human trafficking: ID cards are no substitute for a border police force and proper checks on people entering and leaving the country. In 1998, the Government abolished border controls, but its replacement, a computer-based e-borders scheme will not be fully installed until 2014.

ID cards are a waste of money

  • ID cards will cost each person £93: According to Government estimates, you will pay at least £93 for a combined ID card and passport package but, given this Government’s appalling record of implementing IT projects, this figure is likely to go up. Also, if your ID card is stolen, or your lose it, you’ll have to pay £30 for a replacement. If you change your name when you get married, you’ll have to pay for a new ID card. If one of your relatives dies and you forget to return their ID card, you could be fined £1,000.
  • ID cards scheme will cost up to £20 billion in total: While the Government claims that the scheme will cost £5.4 billion of taxpayers’ money, the independent London School of Economics estimates it will cost up to £20 billion.
  • ID cards could be another Government disaster: This Government has a terrible record of large scale IT disasters. For example, the botched introduction of the new Child Support Agency computer system led to a backlog of 250,000 cases; clerical errors and problems with the tax credits computer system led to millions of incorrect payments; and an audit of the Police National Computer by the Met Police found that 86 per cent of records were inaccurate.

ID cards are an invasion of privacy

  • ID cards give the State too much personal data in one place: Your ID card could hold almost 30 separate pieces of personal information on you, including your name, date and place of birth, gender, previous addresses, photograph, signature, fingerprints and other biometric details. All this information will also be stored on a massive Home Office ID cards database, called the National Identity Register.
  • ID cards mean intrusive interviews and fingerprinting: From 2009, unless you opt out, when you renew your passport you will have to visit a Government ‘interview centre’ and give the Government your fingerprints in order to get an ID card. Fingerprints will also be required for the stand-alone ID cards.

The regional offices for the ID Cards will be located in:

Aberdeen, Aberystwyth, Andover, Armagh, Barnstaple, Belfast, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Birmingham, Blackburn, Boston, Bournemouth, Bristol, Bury St. Edmunds, Camborne, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Cheltenham, Coleraine, Crawley, Derby, Dover, Durham, Dumfries, Dundee, Edinburgh, Exeter, Galashiels, Glasgow, Hastings, Hull, Inverness, Ipswich, Kendal, Kilmarnock, Kings Lynn, Leeds, Leicester, Lincoln, Liverpool, London, Luton, Maidstone, Manchester, Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Newport, Newport (Isle of Wight), Northallerton, Northampton, Norwich, Oban, Omagh, Oxford, Peterborough, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Reading, Scarborough, Shrewsbury, Sheffield, St Austell, Stirling, Stoke-on-Trent, Swansea, Swindon, Warwick, Wick, Wrexham, Yeovil and York.

Source: Hansard, 15 January 2007, col. 782W.

Released by: Bob Blackman

Date: 12th February 2007

Feb 12 2007

New Government figures expose crisis in NHS dentistry across Harrow

Action needed to increase access to NHS dentists says Bob Blackman

New official figures published by the Government have revealed that a shocking number of people across Harrow do not have access to an NHS dentist. In response, Bob Blackman, Conservative Parliamentary Cnadidate for Harrow East, this week is calling for a series of reforms to ensure more patients can go to an NHS dentist, rather than force people to go private or miss out on treatment completely.

The latest NHS figures show that 50% of the population across Harrow have not been seen by an NHS dentist in the last two years. Worse, 1,845 people have lost access to their NHS dentist in Harrow since 2006.

Conservatives have announced a series of reforms to NHS dentistry which will improve NHS care. A comprehensive plan proposes:

  • Creating new incentives for dentists to spend more time on preventative dental care, improving oral health and reducing long-term costs.
  • Restoring access to an NHS dentist for the one million patients who have lost it under Labour’s failed system, by removing costly bureaucracy and cutting out waste.
  • Using money currently spent on carrying out unnecessary treatments to reintroduce dental screening for children in schools.
  • Ensuring that taxpayer-trained dentists work for the NHS for at least five years.

Bob Blackman said:

‘The Labour Government is leaving a terrible dental legacy which will be difficult to fix.  A million people have lost their NHS dentist in just three years, and 50% of the population across Harrow are without an NHS dentist.

“Dentists are fed up with the flawed system that Labour have introduced. As a result, local residents to have to travel miles to see an NHS dentist, or else pay to go private to receive the treatment they need.

“Conservatives will help restore access to an NHS dentist, and spend more on preventative treatment to help avoid tooth decay. We need to tackle the worrying number of people needing to have their teeth pulled out.”

Notes to Editors

NEW PROPOSALS TO BOOST NHS DENTISTRY

Conservative proposals, Transforming NHS Dentistry, were published on 19 May 2009.

Labour’s approach of micro-managing the NHS has been especially damaging for dentistry. Bureaucratic changes in 2006 severed the patient-dentist relationship by stopping people registering with local practices, instead contracting dentists to perform fixed units of treatment every year. This was disastrous: perverse incentives now force dentists to skip essential preventative care to meet short-term targets for curative treatments. Oral health has declined, skewing resources to fewer and fewer patients – a million people have lost access to an NHS dentist already.

  • Conservatives are proposing to scrap Labour’s bureaucratic dental contract and restore the right for patients to register with dentists. To achieve this, we will use two stages of innovative reform designed to tackle the long-term drivers of bad oral health and the rising cost of remedial treatments.
  • First, micro-management will be replaced by new incentives that reward dental professionals for providing essential preventative care and other innovations that improve oral health and deliver better value for money. We will also remove the perverse incentives that drive dentists to provide unnecessary treatments, providing enough capacity to restore access to dentists for the million people that lost it due to Labour’s botched reforms and yielding long-term cost and health benefits.
  • Then, as capacity builds, we will move to patient registration, strengthened by giving people access to new information about the results dentists achieve, empowering their choices over which ones best meet their needs.
  • These reforms will not only tackle the immediate crisis in access to NHS dental care. They will build a sustainable system where more effective incentives and more empowered patient choices drive a virtuous cycle of increased access to care and value for money for taxpayers.

LOCAL FIGURES

The table below, based on the latest NHS official statistics published on 21 May, shows the number of people seen by NHS dentists, and how the figures have changed since March 2006 (the start point for the current statistics). It also shows the proportion of the population who have not been seen by an NHS dentist.

Data source: NHS Information Centre, NHS Dental Statistics for England, Quarter 3, 21 May 2009, Annex 3, Tables D3 and D4.

Total number of NHS dental patients seen in the previous 24 months

March 2006

December 2008

Change

% population not seen

Brent PCT

168,276

157,175

-11,101

42%

Harrow PCT

109,809

107,964

-1,845

50%

 

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