About 400 households, mainly in the Chells Manor area, received a shock in mid June, when without warning a new Council Tax demand from Stevenage Borough Council dropped onto their doormats. In many cases, they were informed that they would in future have to pay each year about an extra £250, because their property had been revalued upwards in terms of the applicable Council Tax band – in many cases from band D to band E.

Your local Borough Councillors – Liberal Democrats Lis Knight, Robin Parker and Graham Snell, who are the councillors for the Manor ward – were contacted by irate residents.

Background

“We immediately researched what was going on,” said Robin Parker ” because neither Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) or the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) had bothered to let us know about this major event affecting our area.”

“From information I got from both SBC and VOA, after the event, it seems that a small number of local residents had applied for a revaluation of their property, which any house owner can do. I understand that there has been some national publicity on television recently advising people to do this, presumably in the hope that their band would be lowered and their Council tax would go down. I understand those residents who started this process have been told there will be no change in their bands!”

“When the VOA looked at these applications, they said they found a large number of errors in the Chells Manor area. For example, almost identical nearby properties being banded differently. By law, if they discover errors, the VOA have to put them right, which is what they now claim to have done.”

Who decides?

The VOA decide on Council Tax bands. They are quite separate from and nothing whatsoever to do with any council. They are not accountable to SBC or Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) or your local councillors. Nevertheless, your local Liberal Democrat councillors have advised and supported the residents in a number of ways over this issue.

The VOA are directly responsible to central government, under Jane Kennedy MP, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in the Labour government.

Many up…..some down

Councillor Graham Snell said “Figures from the VOA to us, show that, of the revaluartions done in Chells Manor so far in June, about 350 have gone up and about 50 have gone down. There are about another 100 still to be sent out, probably before the end of June.”

Pay more…..or refunds

Residents whose properties have gone up in banding will be asked to pay the extra from the date of the revaluation in June 2008. Residents who have gone down in banding will get a refund back dated to 1 April 1993, if they have lived in the property all that time. Otherwise, the refund will be backdated to the date they first started paying Council Tax for that property. Previous owners will be traced if possible for a refund.

Appeals

There is a right of Appeal against any Council Tax Banding determination. To do so, you need to contact the VOA (not the council). For the Stevenage area, the VOA is based at St. Albans and their telephone number is 01727 774700.

“We have advised affected residents to appeal as soon as possible” said Robin Parker. “Unfortunately, the appeals system is a little strange. You appeal first. Then the VOA tell you the grounds for their decision. Then you enter a full appeal, presumably basing it on the grounds given by the VOA.”

The system

The current system is that the VOA value your property at what it would have been on 1 April 1991, assuming it existed then. Since 1 April 1993, Council Tax replaced Poll Tax, which is why refunds go back to that date. Your property is placed in one of eight bands, A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, with valuations as follows:

A: up to £40,000
B: £40,001 – £52,000
C: £52,001 – £68,000
D: £68,001 – £88,000
E: £88,001 – £120,000
F: £120,001 – £160,000
G: £160,001 – £320,000
H: over £320,000

Your Council Tax bill is then calculated as follows:

Band Proportion of band D 2007-08 2008-09
A 6/9ths £892.62 £932.82
B 7/9ths £1041.38 £1,088.29
C 8/9ths £1,190.17 £1,243.76
D £1,338.93 £1,399.23
E 11/9ths £1,636.48 £1,710.10
F 13/9ths £1,934.00 £2,021.11
G 15/9ths £2,231.55 £2,332.05
H 18/9ths £2,677.86 £2,798.46

So the bill for a property in band A will always be 2/3rds of the bill for a property in band D, whereas the bill for a property in band H will always be twice the bill for band D. Band H properties will pay 3 times the amount payable by properties in band A.

Where it goes

Stevenage Borough Council have by law to collect the Council Tax, according to:

1.Which band the VOA say your property is in; and

2. How much the three authorities (Hertfordshire County Council, Hertfordshire Police Authority and Stevenage Borough Council) say band D properties must pay.

Stevenage Borough Council then split up the tax as follows;

77% goes to Hertfordshire County Council

10% goes to Hertfordshire Police Authority

13% goes to Stevenage Borough Council

NOTE: Although they spend 10% of your money, Hertfordshire Police Authority is not elected, unlike the Stevenage Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council!

Bungles

Not only has this come as a shock to many householders, already suffering steep rises in fuel and food prices, mortgage repayments and Labour’s 10p rise in income tax, but both the VOA and SBC made errors in the paperwork sent out about the revaluations.

• The bills arrived several days before the official notice of revaluation from the VOA, because the VOA were too slow and SBC very fast!

• The revaluation letters did not have appeal details enclosed, as they should do, in some cases.

• The SBC bills were wrong due to a software error.

“We are doing our best to sort out these bungles and I understand the bills will be sent out again, but correct this time. We are told the VOA has now sent appeals leaflets to affected residents” said Councillor Lis Knight. “No wonder residents were livid when they contacted us.”

Meeting

Robin Parker has been in contact with both the VOA and SBC to arrange a public meeting to be held locally, where affected local residents can address their concerns and questions directly to officers from both the VOA and SBC. At the time of writing, the time, date and venue were unknown, but we will do our best to make sure the meeting is properly publicised. We want it to be as soon as possible.

Liberal Democrats Say

• We have always been against the whole Council Tax system.

• We want a fair local tax, which takes account of peoples’ ability to pay, not an arbitrary tax on your home.

• We say shocks, errors and bungles like this should not happen!

Who is to blame?

* The last Conservative government introduced the Poll Tax in 1990, which was so unpopular (riots against it in the streets) that they got rid of their ownPrime Minister Mrs. Thatcher and, in their haste also to get rid of their Poll Tax, only 3 years after it started, they cobbled together the Council Tax system we have today.
* About half the valuations were done by the VOA and about half by local estate agents. There were many reports of these estate agents being paid large sums to value houses quickly which they allegedly did by driving into roads and taking a video!
* No wonder errors happened. Has Labour taken any action to improve the situation in the last 11 years, when they have been in power?

OF COURSE NOT!

Not affected?

Even if you have not been affected by these shock revaluations (yet) – we hope this information about the issue has been of interest and use to you.