Using Big Brother to reassess your council tax

Council tax valuations on the 23.2 million domestic properties in England and Wales that are used to calculate the tax that each household pays each year are currently based upon the price a property would have fetched if it had been sold on 1st April 1991. The Valuation Office is now compiling information that will enable it to update these values and is using technology to help. A swimming pool or a moat, a sea view or a home cinema all add value to a property and by using existing technology, the Valuation Office can see more than ever before.

The Valuation Office web site confirms the 16 individual attributes that they use for each property including something called the Value Significant Code (VSC) which details any special features, good or bad, that might effect the value. Globrix, one of the better property web sites currently lists 3827 homes for sale with swimming pools, 1333 with tennis courts, 2843 with rural views and 28 with wind turbines. 57 have moats although it isn’t clear who pays to clean them!

The Government are already using Google Earth and satellites to check what farmers are growing, water companies and local authorities check if your lawn looks greener than it should during a hose pipe ban and a greenhouse or even a wind turbine can be seen from the air. Things that might effect the value of your property can now be recorded without anyone having to visit and in theory the new development of houses built five years ago, the new road or the sewage works that might pull the value down should be equally visible.

By far the most helpful data available to the Valuation Office however are the old estate agents details that were used if you either did sell or just tried to sell your home during the last nine years.

Rightmove, the biggest of the property portals with archives of over 10m properties, sold the data they collected from estate agent adverts for a reported £10m in June 2005. The original 3 year contract has been extended to the end of this year according to Hansard reports. The contract would allow tax bureaucrats access to the information used when your house was marketed. Estate agents, who see none of this revenue, produce pictures of the properties including the views, floor plans and in some instances even virtual tours.

When added to the records that the Government already collects via HMRC or The Land Registry on individual sale prices, the new database of the nations housing stock should be very accurate indeed. Whilst the original revaluation exercise was subsequently cancelled, the total cost of the exercise could exceed £30m once the additional costs of the project such as the software purchased via Capgemini in 2005 are taken into account.

In 1991 the average property was worth just £64,000 according to the Halifax. This number has grown despite the recent market turmoil to £155,000. If all homes are to be re-assessed after the next election then tax inspectors will have access to huge amounts of electronic data to draw upon which will allow them to recalculate the value of your home and as a result the tax you pay without even having to knock on your door.