Controversial council tax database

database.jpgBy Tomos Livingstone |

A CONTROVERSIAL database that calculates council tax bands according to features like parking space and the view from the front room is to be used in Wales. The database is run by the Valuation Office Agency, the Government body that decides which homes fall into which council tax bands.

It is already in use in England, which has yet to undergo the “rebanding” process which landed many Welsh homes in a higher council tax bracket in 2005.

Conservatives have seized on the revelation as evidence that another rebanding was already being planned in Wales.

The Assembly Government said there were “no plans” for such a move, although Ministers have expressed a desire to reband properties more frequently — the 2005 change was the first for 14 years — to make the tax fairer.

With local elections just 10 days away, the Tories are hoping to turn the rise in council tax bills over the past decade to their advantage.

Use of the database will mean “every house with a nice view… faces the prospect of higher taxes”, said Shadow Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan.

But a Government source insisted the database, know in Whitehall jargon as the “automated valuation model”, was simply being used to keep the 2005 lists up to date.

The model uses a computer programme to calculate the value of a property — and by extension its council tax band — by assessing a number of factors including size, access to shops and location.

The Western Mail revealed earlier this month that thousands of homes face a higher council tax bill because the Valuation Office Agency claims it placed properties in the wrong bands during the 2005 exercise.

In total 18,000 households made formal complaints about their new council tax bands after the revaluation.

In a parliamentary answer Jane Kennedy, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said: “The Valuation Office Agency is currently developing automated valuation model capabilities to support work in connection with the maintenance of the current (2005) council tax lists in Wales. This will increase both the overall efficiency of the agency’s work, and will deliver further improvements in customer service for taxpayers in Wales.”

Cheryl Gillan, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales, said: “Households across Wales face being sized up by Government inspectors for every sign of improvements to their property.

“Every house with a nice view, or close to local shops, is going to be recorded on a state-run database and faces the prospect of higher taxes.

“Hard-working families, pensioners and individuals across Wales are already struggling to cope with soaring council tax bills. Only Labour could think to penalise them even further for living in a nice neighbourhood or for taking care of their properties.

She added: “With higher bills and poorer local services, people are asking ‘where has all our money gone?’.”

A spokesman for Welsh Labour said last night: “The Tories are complete hypocrites on council tax. The fact is that council tax in Wales went up much faster when the Tories were in office. Since 1997 Welsh local government has enjoyed record levels of funding from the Assembly Government. Council tax rises have been kept down year on year, so that the average band D council tax in Wales is around three quarters of the latest estimated figure of £1,374 for England.

“People in Wales will judge the parties on their record. And this year the Tories imposed a double whammy, with the highest council tax rise in Conservative-controlled Monmouthshire and the second highest in Conwy, where they share power.”

A spokeswoman for the Assembly Government said no date had been fixed for the next revaluation of domestic properties in Wales but the Local Government Act 2003 required it to done within 10 years of the last one in 2005.