Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, has today (27 January 2015) published legislative proposals to cut the number of government officials who can demand entry to homes and businesses even further.
Using powers under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, he will propose changing the law that officials from the Valuation Office Agency, an arm of HM Revenue and Customs, should no longer have automatic right of entry into homes and businesses in order to value them for Council Tax and business rates. It is proposed to change the law in this Parliament, subject to the ratification of an order by Parliament.
Mr Pickles said:
I am a firm believer that we should be cutting down on the number of government snoopers who can barge into a person’s home. This government has clamped down on the overuse and abuse of snooping with over 300 powers of entry already being abolished as well as stopping spy cars and bin snoopers.
We are now curtailing the powers of Council Tax inspectors. This complements the steps we have taken to stop a Council Tax revaluation and terminate the tax revaluation database to protect hard-working people from unwanted tax rises.
Under the plans, if Valuation Office officials have been unable to gain access to a property by consent they will now have to seek the authority of a judicial tribunal to scrutinise the proposed entry.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 places a duty on government departments to review their legislation which provides for powers of entry. This statutory powers of entry review demonstrates the government’s commitment to ensuring that private and family life is respected at all times, ensuring that the privacy of citizens’ homes and businesses is protected.
The intention of government is that public authorities should have fewer powers to enter people’s homes and that the privacy and rights of homeowners and businesses should be protected and strengthened wherever possible. It is essential that powers of entry, as with any enforcement power, achieve the right balance between the need to enforce the law and ensure public protection and to provide sufficient safeguards and rights to the individual.
The Valuation Office Agency is a government agency of HM Revenue and Customs responsible for assessing domestic property and assigning Council Tax bands and for assessing non-domestic properties and assigning a rateable value.
Following the powers of entry review the department has identified 2 powers operated by the Valuation Office Agency which it proposes to amend. These are:
The proposal is that a tribunal would have to give its approval and sign-off any request by officials who wish to gain entry to a property. Tribunals are specialist judicial bodies which decide disputes in particular areas of law. Tribunal judges are legally qualified. Tribunal members are specialist non-legal members of the panel and include doctors, chartered surveyors, ex-service personnel or accountants. Tribunals often sit as a panel comprising a tribunal judge and non-legal members however in some jurisdictions cases may be heard by a tribunal judge or member sitting alone.
The statutory consultation will run until 20 February 2015 and it is proposed to change the law in this Parliament, subject to the approval of the secondary legislation by Parliament.