HL Deb 11 February 1993 vol 542 cc757-9

Lord De Freyne asked Her Majesty's Government:

What financial provision has been made to cover the costs of appeals against the valuation of property for the council tax.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, the Government have made available £36.2 million in 1993–94 to enable the Valuation Office Agency to deal with proposals from taxpayers to alter their council tax bands. The Government have also considered the financial requirements of valuation tribunals, which will hear council tax appeals, and have increased provision in England by about £2.7 million in 1993–94.

Lord De Freyne

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply. Having heard that there will be approximately 3,000 appeals in Oxfordshire and remembering that there are about 48 counties in England, will that not add up to a very large sum? Does it not show that in some cases the valuations are wrong and that that will have a knock-on effect to the final account? Will the Minister estimate the cost of a total revaluation on that basis?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I have absolutely no idea where my noble friend gets his figures from. We believe that we have made sufficient financial provision to allow for appeals. I should point out that in the first instance the matter will not go to appeal because it will be subject to review by the listing officer.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the noble Lord not recognise that after the fiasco of the poll tax, it is very important that the council tax should be seen to be properly administered and fair? If that is not the case, it will be a disaster. Is the noble Lord aware that many people are worried about the system of valuations, the criteria which were used for those valuations, and the method used by estate agents, apparently on the instructions of the Inland Revenue? Will the noble Lord further take into account the possibility that the criteria for appeals are extremely difficult for people to understand? The appeals procedure only starts at the end of March or early April, just before the tax is implemented. Will the noble Lord comment on that and perhaps reconsider the Government's view on the matter?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, no. It is really very simple. After 1st April anyone who feels that his property is in the wrong band can apply to the listing officer for the band to be changed. Within six months that decision can be taken forward to the valuation appeals department for an ultimate decision. It is not a complicated appeals system, and we expect that there will be very few appeals.

Lord Kinnaird

My Lords, in view of my noble friend's Question, it strikes me that the Government are rather in the position of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. She says to Alice, "What square do you want to be on?" "Oh that square", says Alice. "That square, we shall have to walk very fast to get there", says the Red Queen. After they have been walking or running for 10 minutes, Alice says, "This is ridiculous. We are just where we were before. We are no further on." "Nonsense" says the Red Queen "if we had not been running as fast as we have, we shouldn't even be standing where we are now."

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend makes a useful and interesting observation which has amused the whole House.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, one of the biggest anomalies in the valuation of the properties is that they are being valued at prices which applied about two or three years ago. That is ridiculous. Are the Government prepared to do anything about it?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that the valuation date was set for 1st April 1991. Clearly, a date had to be set for the valuation prior to the introduction of the tax. The point is not that the valuation will be the same as that which will apply in April 1993 but that the values of all the houses will have changed at roughly the same level in the intervening period.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, will my noble friend correct what may be a misunderstanding which arose from a question from the Front Bench opposite? Surely the estate agents who are acting as agents for the valuation officers are not setting their own guidelines but are following guidelines set by the valuation department. Therefore, there will be a uniformity of guidelines throughout the country.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Furthermore, the value is not an exact value because we are dealing in bands. Therefore, the value can be at one point between two other fixed points.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, does the noble Lord realise and is he aware that if he thinks that this matter is simple, he really is living in wonderland? Does he not appreciate that the points raised by my noble friend on the Front Bench are anxieties of the general population? Will he say whether the valuation departments have sufficient staff to enable them to reply to the many requests for information which have been received. I am certainly having difficulty in obtaining a reply to my letters.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I understand that the departments are fully staffed and, as I indicated in my original Answer, are fully financed. The noble Lord will not receive a reply to some of his inquiries until after the tax is in place on 1st April.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, will the Minister say whether there is any special significance about 1st April being the chosen date?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it is near the beginning of the fiscal year.

The Earl of Kinnoull

My Lords, if Alice appeals, can the appeals court grant Alice her costs if it so wishes?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, we do not expect that any costs will be incurred in appealing. It is a simple matter of fact as to whether or not a property should be in one band or another.

Lord Underhill

My Lords, is it not the case that there have been consultations with the local authority associations? Will the Minister say what are the results of those consultations and what is the view of the local authority associations?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, local authorities have been fully consulted at every step of the way on the implementation of the council tax. I can only assume they are quite happy with the arrangements. I have not received any complaints.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the band in which people find themselves is not a matter of fact but rather a matter of opinion?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it is a matter of market value, or at least perceived market value. Whether that is a matter of fact or opinion is for debate.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, as the noble Lord regards this matter as terribly simple, will he explain how bands can be decided by perceived market value, to use his expression, when many estate agents, under instruction—I wish to correct the noble Lord who criticised me—from the Inland Revenue, have not even looked at many of the properties they have been valuing?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the point is that valuers were asked to place properties between bands. Band D in England, for instance, comprises properties worth more than £68,000 but not more than £88,000. That is quite a wide target for valuers to hit.

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