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Prescott's 'spies in the sky' to hike up council tax

Caroline Spelman MP | January 5 2006

An ongoing investigation into John Prescott's controversial 'Big Brother' council tax database has revealed that he may start using aerial or satellite photographs to assist in the council tax revaluation – to spot new conservatories, garages, outbuildings or home extensions.

Conservatives are warning that this information, once entered into a controversial, new American computer database, could be used to levy a new stealth tax on home extensions. At present, council tax bills are unaffected by any home improvement. Such a move would follow John Prescott's decision to hike planning fees by over 20 per cent for home extensions.

In addition, council tax inspectors will be collating information on the type and condition of walls and roofs – potentially meaning higher council tax bills for thatched houses and different bills for pebble-dashed, stone or brick homes.

This new information was uncovered in a council tax handbook prepared for the Valuation Office Agency, an arm of the Inland Revenue. This follows recent revelations that houses with scenic views and multiple bedrooms will face higher council tax bills, and that householders may be fined £500 and receive a criminal record for refusing to allow Agency snoopers to conduct interior inspections.

Caroline Spelman MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Local Government, said:
"Labour may claim to have postponed revaluation, but in reality it is well under way by stealth, with a new database starting to log the precise details of every home – including the number of bedrooms, the type of conservatory and the presence of outbuildings like sheds.

"The public have already expressed concern at the prospect of inspectors with cameras entering their homes. Now it appears that the Government will also be using aerial photography to invade people's privacy and lay the ground for a new stealth tax on home improvements.

"For many people that need more space but can't afford to move to a bigger house the answer is to make improvements to their existing home, but it now seems they are going to be penalised for this through council tax hikes. It is catch twenty two, with home-owners being taxed if they move and taxed if they don't."

Despite the delay in the council tax revaluation, the Valuation Office Agency are still rolling out a controversial American 'Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal' computer database across England, and gradually building up the data held on each home. So far almost 2 million homes have 'value significant codes' recorded.

An online video of the new computer system in operation has been produced by the American firm: It explains how the 'data collectors' should enter people's property to collect the information, and features the tax inspector entering people's bedrooms & toilets to collect the necessary data for the computer

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