Monday, February 04, 2008

HM Revenue Wants You

Reportedly, tax collectors are snooping on local homes in Thanet and Sandwich in a secret deal between HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Rightmove Property Company.

This news is from Laura Sandys, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet and Sandwich, who writes:

“I am very concerned at the news of a secret deal between the taxman and property company Rightmove that hold the details of 9 out 10 properties for sale or rent across the country. It has been revealed that detailed information on these sales and rentals in Thanet and Sandwich is being collected and logged in a ‘Big Brother’ database to prepare for council revaluation tax hikes.”

“Rightmove is a central web hub used by most estate agents to promote their properties beyond their local area. All the properties on this web site are now provided to the Revenue for them to assess the values of each property for the revaluation of council tax. This deal has not been done transparently and very few estate agents who place their clients’ property details on the website know about this deal.

“The Government has got to come clean", she adds. "It is preparing a revaluation for council tax that will place many of our residents in an even more difficult financial position than today. And yet again rather than being open about this process it is deviously using third parties to collect our home data to increase taxes on our properties.”

The implications are:

• Tax men plunder your data: Unsuspecting homeowners across East Kent are putting their property on the market for sale or rental, without realising that the tax collectors will use it to plan for new council tax hikes. HM Revenue & Customs, which has lost millions of personal tax and benefit records, is systematically raiding estate agency records to build up a property database for its council tax inspectors. Rightmove holds 16 million property records, with millions of individual entries being updated every month.

• Big Brother database invades privacy: People selling their home are not informed that information given to their estate agent, which is then passed to internet portal Rightmove Plc, is in turn passed on to the Government’s tax inspectors. Local estate agents have been kept in the dark about Rightmove’s actions.

• Details on people’s homes: The personal property data being passed to the taxmen include internal and external photographs of the home, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, conservatories, parking spaces, and particulars such as area, layout, style, features and other ‘value significant’ features. The Government claims that the Data Protection Act does not apply to information about people’s houses. HMRC’s council tax inspectors will instruct local councils to increase the council tax on these homes.

Laura concludes:

“We already knew that HMRC have recklessly lost the tax records of millions of law-abiding citizens. Now the same people are disregarding data protection rules to build up a chilling database of every home in the country.

“Residents across Thanet and Sandwich will be alarmed that detailed information on 9 out of 10 house sales and rentals is being passed secretly from estate agents to tax collectors, without public consent.


ZumiWeb said...

"News from Laura Sandys", or perhaps a simple verbatim copy of an article from January 13th on the Conservative Party web site. So it's not a Thanet story at all, but a national one (not sure if that makes it better or worse though!).

A few curious things - why use Estate Agents prices - the asking price - when that is the least accurate measure? The Land Registry uses completion prices - the actual sales price - and other indices use mortgage advances or mortgage offers as a guide to house prices. I can't see the point of the HMRC deliberatly choosing to use the one measure known to be wildly wrong. Still, stranger things have happened I suppose.

And the idea of HMRC Council Tax Inspectors - Council Tax is the responsibility of local authorities as we all know. What does it have to do with HMRC? Why would they have inspectors at all?

There is a threatened revaluation that must happen one day, and that willinvolve all sorts of inspecting, but it's not going to be done by HMRC.

Interesting story, although Laura didn't have much to do withwriitng it, I suspect, but just a few holes to make it more scare than story (Scare Tory perhaps?). Still nothing like a good Big Brother conspiracy to get people worked up.

DrMoores said...

When one accepts a story such as this, then it's with the full knowledge that there has to be an implicit political angle.

However, Zumi is quite right, the really interesting part lies with how HMRC are valuing properties for tax purposes and that has worrying implications for all of us I suspect, whether it be a simply Thanet-based phenomemon or nationwide.

In regard to HMRC "council tax" inspectors, this comes down to the central government requirement to revise the council tax bands in order to increase tax revenues from properties. I Suspect that HMRC are acting as the agent and that's what she means.

Perhaps she will pop-in and clarify?

Tony Beachcomber said...

Aha Laura Sandys, any opinion on the museums you seem to have opinion on everthing else.

Anonymous said...

Are they? 'the same people are disregarding data protection rules to build up a chilling database of every home in the country.' Anything they do will be done lawfully and if not someone's neck goes on the line.
All the nonsense about 'big brother' 'chilling database' that residents will be 'alarmed' 'systematically raiding estate agency records' all very alarmist and as ZumiWeb states more a scare story than anything else. Valuation records need to be updated and I suspect this is a task of HMRC's Valuation Office. As for lost data, yeah they messed up, what are they going to do? Stop collecting information on which to base taxes. You can't avoid it, like death!

Mr Friday said...

The Valuation Office Agency who currently value homes and businesses for Council Tax and Business Rates are part of the HMRC. That'll explain why the HMRC are involved in this.

Still, let's not let a few facts get in the way of a good scare story eh ?

It stands to reason that a property-based tax like Council Tax does rather depend on property valuations. No party wants to be the one who is in power when properties are revalued for Council Tax purposes as it will be political dynamite. Labour have deferred it and deferred it and you would not find the Conservatives promising they will do it either. For the time being then, we have a system of local taxation where property values are based on 1991 figures. Wonderful !

ZumiWeb said...

Fair enough, I wasn't aware that the valuation was an HMRC task - I assumed it would be more local responsibility.

Actually my main personal objection was Laura implying she had discovered this herself as a local issue and written the story, when she was just doing what most parties and all newspapers do - take something straight off the newswire (or in this case the party site) and add a byline to imply some journalistic input.

And yes of course the revaluation is well overdue, and we will still all scream when our properties suddenly leap forward 30 years (in ratable value, if not in real value). That's the problem with governments putting off nasty stuff for the next lot to deal with - eventually it will be twice as nasty...

I still hope they'll look at real data (land registry or building society advances) and not the complete twaddle that is an estate agent's 'valuation'.

Waterguard said...

I'd have some respect for a party that doesn't put their popularity in the way of actually running the country properly. On another note also involving HMRC, the anti-smuggling section of the department is in the process of transfer to the new UK Borders Agency, so soon too after the amalgamation of Customs & Excise and Inland Revenue. Unless someone can correct me my understanding was this to be a Tory idea prior to Labour taking it up. (I'm no Tory lover by the way but nor am I a Labour lover).