Council tax revaluation taking place by stealth across England warns Bob Blackman
Councillor Bob Blackman expressed concern at reports of “paparazzi” surveillance being covertly rolled out by the Valuation Office Agency – an arm of Inland Revenue. In a stealth council tax revaluation exercise, every home in the country faces photographs of their home – inside and outside – being stored on a computer database, in order to identify features which could be taxed.
- Two million homes already snapped by stealth: Covert photogrpahy is already under way by the council tax inspectors, despite the supposed delay in the English council tax revaluation. New figures have revealed that in the last year, the number of photographs of homes stored on the system has soared from half a million to over two million.
- Estate agents collaborating in privacy raid: The Valuation Office Agency is also using taxpayers’ money to obtain information on the outside and inside of people’s homes – by buying up the data from estate agents, Rightmove. Unsuspecting homeowners are putting their property on the market without realising that the tax inspectors are using it to find out how to hike up council tax bills.
- Tax spies armed with clipboards and long-distance cameras: The ‘Health & Safety’ manual of the council tax inspectors reveals that they are being armed with telescopic lenses & cameras, clipboards, laser pens and location plans and maps of every home. The inspectors are instructed to record any abusive or hostile behaviour by householders. They have the power to impose £500 fines, via the courts, on any household who refuses entry or obstructs the state snoopers.
- Scrap these powers says Opposition: Conservatives are pledging that the next Conservative Government will abolish the powers of the inspectors to enter people’s homes and gardens.
Bob Blackman said,
“I am very concerned that the privacy and property of honest, law-abiding citizens is under threat from paparazzi-style council tax inspectors.
“There is already public unease at Labour plans for a compulsory national Identity Card Database and the new Children’s Database. The Government is now rolling out a property photo database to match and conducting a council tax revaluation by stealth across the country.
“Not only are civil liberties under threat, but I fear the photographs taken by these tax inspectors will be used to hike taxes on family homes – by taxing features like conservatories, extensions, gardens and patios. Conservatives are campaigning against these plans to send camera-wielding inspectors into Harrow’s bedrooms, bathrooms and gardens, and we will abolish the snoopers’ powers of entry.”
Notes to Editors
TAX INSPECTORS SNOOPING ON YOUR HOME THROUGH ESTATE AGENTS
The Valuation Office Agency, an arm of HM Revenue & Customs, is using taxpayers’ money to grab information on the outside and inside of people’s homes – by buying up the data from estate agents Rightmove. Unsuspecting homeowners put their property on the market without realising that the tax snoopers will be using it to hike up council tax bills.
“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what property attributes and datasets the Valuation Office Agency’s market comparable reporting tool licensed from Rightmove holds.
Mr. Woolas: “Market Comparable Reporting Tool” is the name given by Rightmove.co.uk plc to its database of properties that were advertised for sale on the Rightmove website. The Valuation Office Agency has access to this information, which for each property was freely available publicly for the period during which it was being marketed.”
Hansard, 23 January 2007, col. 1731W.
“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether the data provided to the Valuation Office Agency by Rightmove.co.uk includes the provision of photographs of properties.
Mr. Woolas: Rightmove.co.uk plc does not provide data to the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) but makes information accessible to VOA staff through a web link. This information includes photographs of properties, but such photographs are only for viewing and are not copied by the VOA.”
Hansard, 18 January 2007, col. 1327W.
TWO MILLION PHOTOGRAPHS ALREADY HEAD – AND RISING
The Valuation Office Agency is also rolling out a computer database of every property in Britain. In May, the database held half a million photographs. The Government now says that the database holds over two million photographs.
“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many domestic properties in England have photographs allocated to the address by the Valuation Office Agency as part of their council tax valuation records.
Mr. Woolas: I have been asked to reply. Of the 22 million domestic property records in England, some 2.5 per cent. (549,000) have a photograph or photographs attached.”
Hansard, 15 May 2006, col. 713W.
“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many photographs are stored on the Valuation Office Agency’s central database.
Dawn Primarolo: There are 25 million records for business and domestic properties there are 2.2 million photographs as at 20 November 2006.”
Hansard, 16 January 2007, col. 1025W.
There is no limit to number of photographs that the database can hold.
“Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what the technical limit is of the number of photographs that the Valuation Office Agency’s digital photography application can hold.
Mr. Woolas: There is no technical limit on the number of photographs that can be held by the Valuation Office Agency’s digital photography application.”
Hansard, 19 June 2006, col, 601W.
TELESCOPIC CAMERAS NOW PART OF THE INSPECTORS TOOLS
Conservatives have obtained the health & safety manual used by the council tax inspectors – which shows how all the council tax inspectors are equipped with cameras and laser pens:
A manual highlights the recommended equipment that council tax inspectors should use – including three different types of tape measure, the latest laser measuring equipment, and telescopic viewers “for long range measurements.”
(VOA, Practical Health & Safety: Surveying Equipment, 2005).
The full list what they are told to have for their inspections is as follows:
To successfully undertake inspections for Council Tax purposes, you will need the following equipment:
- 20m tape and/or Laser measuring device
- Clipboard, pens & pencils, eraser
- Supply of dwelling survey sheets VO 9072
- Personal Alarm
- Location plans/street maps
- Identity Documents
– You should be issued with your own personal 20m tape. The availability of laser measuring devices in offices may be limited therefore you may have to book one out for your inspections. Check your local office practice. If you do take a laser tape, make sure it is in working order before leaving the office and that the batteries are not flat.
– All staff on outdoor duties are issued with a personal alarm. If you do not have one, ask your line manager. Check it is in working order before leaving the office.
– You must carry your Identity card (VO 9053) and Authority to inspect (VO 9056) with you at all times. Make sure your authority is up to date and signed by the relevant Listing Officer.
– As with laser measuring devices, the availability of cameras in offices may be limited so you should your local office booking procedure if you are not issued with an individual one.
– Of course you will be provided with a briefcase to carry this equipment…
Avoid contentious discussions e.g. the rights or wrongs of the Council Tax system. Do not offer any advice regarding payment of Council Tax…
“You must adopt a methodical, systematic approach to inspecting dwellings to ensure you obtain all the necessary information in the most efficient way. Always start your inspection by taking a quick look around the outside of the property (or around all the rooms in a flat) to get a feel for what you’re dealing with. You should then draw your sketch plan on the survey sheet, decide on the required measurements, take your measurements working from front to back and record on the sketch plan, complete the dwelling codes, complete the remainder of the dwelling survey sheet and finally take a photo”.
Valuation Office Agency, Practical Health & Safety: Council Tax Referencing Best Practice.
The council tax inspectors should also involve noting whether the householder is potentially abusive or violent when conducting the internal inspection.
“There needs to be a more consistent approach to incident reporting, by raising awareness amongst staff that reporting is viewed as important by management. There should be a policy of learning from incidents. For example, all incidents involving violence must be investigated, and a robust stance taken with those abusing, threatening or assaulting referencers and valuers viz. always report to police for legal action… Improve records on client files of all appropriate incidents including potentially violent information” (VOA, Practical Health & Safety: BMI Recommendations, pp. 3, 8).
The Valuation Office Agency has spent almost half a million pounds (£438,749) on purchasing 2,126 digital cameras, for these tax inspections and surveys.
Hansard, 30 November 2005, col. 587W.
£500 FINES FOR OBSTRUCTING THE SNOOPERS
If any householder tries to obstruct the council tax inspector from entering their home, they can be fined £500 and have a local police record.
“Mrs. Spelman: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether an individual prosecuted in the magistrates court for intentionally delaying or obstructing a Valuation Office Agency representative conducting a council tax valuation inspection would receive a criminal record if convicted.
Hazel Blears: A person who intentionally obstructs a valuation officer commits an offence and may be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level two (£500) on the standard scale. This is not a recordable offence and will not be recorded nationally on the police national computer, but will be recorded on local police and court records.”
Hansard, 6 December 2005, col. 1106W.
Released by: Bob Blackman
Date: 26th March 2007