Council tax revaluation ruled out
There will be no revaluation of council tax bands in England during the current Parliament, Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has said.
Mr Pickles also announced an independent review of council tax inspections, which he said would "rein in intrusive snooping" by limiting the data gathered and stored about people's homes.
The Communities Secretary said families in England could save up to £320 a year in local tax hikes from his decision not to go ahead with a revaluation being planned by Labour, but Labour denounced his claims as "cynical and misleading", pointing to a pledge in this year's election manifesto which promised: "We will not hold a council tax revaluation in the next Parliament."
Council tax bands in England are based on valuations of property carried out in 1991. Plans for a revaluation of 22 million homes in 2007 were postponed by the former Labour government in 2005, amid anger over a previous exercise in Wales which led to tax hikes for many households.
Mr Pickles said the Welsh revaluation led to one third of homes moving up one or more bands - four times as many as moved down. The less well-off were hit the hardest, with two-thirds of the hikes in homes that were originally in the lowest three bands, he said.
If the experience of Wales were repeated in England, families in homes moved up one band from D to E would face a tax hike averaging around £320 a year, said Mr Pickles. Meanwhile, the taxpayer will save up to £180 million on the cost of administering a revaluation exercise, he said.
But consumer guru Martin Lewis, of moneysavingexpert.com, said: "I remember sitting opposite Eric Pickles on TV when he decried Labour for covering up that 400,000 people were in the wrong council tax band. Yet this means those people will remain in the wrong band - still based on valuations done by estate agents driving past homes in 1991. The system is flawed, and was never meant to last this long."
An independent data audit of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) will protect privacy and civil liberties as part of the Government's agenda of dismantling the "database state", said Mr Pickles.
The VOA's inspectors assess properties' value for council tax purposes, and there was previously controversy over their collection of data on features of homes such as the number of bedrooms or bathrooms, whether it has a patio and whether it enjoys a nice view or is in a good neighbourhood.
Alex Deane, director of Big Brother Watch, said: "For too long, tax inspectors have been able to intrude into people's private homes and place their property details on an insecure state database, all in the name of generating extra revenue for the Government coffers." But a spokeswoman for the VOA said it was "absolutely not the case" that its inspectors' work amounted to "snooping" on householders. The agency has never exercised its legal right to enter a home since it was introduced by legislation in the early 1990s, she said.