More misery for PM? Council tax cover-up could cost Government

PUBLISHED: 11:52 15 June 2009 | UPDATED: 23:41 15 June 2010

The Prime Minister could suffer another financial embarrassment if council tax payers, who've paid over the odds, start claiming back overpayments. According to East Devon MP Hugo Swire, Gordon Brown and his ministers are deliberately covering up serio

The Prime Minister could suffer another financial embarrassment - if council tax payers, who've paid over the odds, start claiming back overpayments.According to East Devon MP Hugo Swire, Gordon Brown and his ministers are deliberately covering up serious problems over the banding of homes for council tax.Mr Swire, Conservative MP for East Devon, says new figures have revealed that Whitehall's council tax snoopers have been forced to redo the council tax bands of thousands of homes after appeals by householders across East Devon and the country.Official papers from government council tax inspectors, the Valuation Office Agency, show that many homes are in the wrong band for council tax and families have been paying over the odds for years. Accidentally leaked minutes have confessed that if the tax errors became known, the Government would lose money and would have to pay tax refunds. This was also ruled out since it would generate "adverse press coverage... in the current climate".Mr Swire said: "We now have clear evidence of a council tax cover-up. The Labour Government has been caught red-handed fiddling council tax to make families in East Devon and across the country pay more."The combination of a campaign by money saving expert Martin Lewis, the publication of these leaked minutes and an ITV Tonight documentary, has produced a surge in council tax appeals. Now Parliamentary Questions have forced the Government to publish detailed figures on the changes to council tax bands.In the last three years, 190,000 existing homes have had their council tax band changed: 133,985 homes have moved down a band. In East Devon, 647 homes have moved down a council tax band as a result of appeals. This proves there are serious and systematic errors in the banding of homes, which Ministers have been covering up to save money.Wales has been used as a test-bed for a council tax revaluation. Three times as many homes moved up a band as down. Yet since that 2005 revaluation, a succession of errors has also been uncovered with the Valuation Office Agency's work. To date, 1 in 20 homes in Wales have had their post-revaluation banding corrected. A wholesale council tax revaluation has thus caused more problems than it solved.Mr Swire said: "Whitehall bureaucrats know that many homes across the country are wrongly banded, but have refused to correct the tax inspectors' errors to save the Government money and save face."The whole basis of our tax system is undermined if the state conspires to over-charge the public. Labour Ministers only want to reform the council tax system if it rakes in extra cash for Gordon Brown's coffers.

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