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COUNCIL TAX APPEALS BELOW ESTIMATE, SAYS DAVID CURRY

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There were 650,000 appeals against council tax banding in England by the end of September, according to Local Gover...
There were 650,000 appeals against council tax banding in England by the end of September, according to Local Government Minister David Curry.

Although this represented 3% of homes, Mr Curry was confident the appeals total would be about 750,000 by the November deadline, well below the DoE initial estimate of one million. Speaking at the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation's annual conference in Torquay this week, he argued the tax was working remarkably well. Most councils had collected a higher proportion of revenue than in the final year of the poll tax, he said.

Mr Curry told the 650 delegates he recognised the problem of collecting poll tax debts and promised to examine any proposals on how the DoE could help. His conciliatory remarks were in sharp contrast to the critical tone of fellow DoE minister Tony Baldry in recent weeks, who made a thinly veiled accusation that tribunals were dragging their heels.

Mr Curry said the speed appeals were dealt with was limited by 'the number of public spirited men and women prepared to take on the duties of a tribunal member. This is very valuable but totally unglamorous work'.

Complaints about the tax concentrated on fine detail such as the number of bands and the size of the single person discount. Mr Curry rejected earlier calls by IRRV President John Charman for regular property revaluations but said minor changes to the tax were possible. However, he warned councils they were unlikely to see the details of the council tax transitional relief scheme until after the Budget in November.

He emphasised the extensive co-operation between the DoE and councils on legislative changes and promised his attitude would not change now the council tax was working smoothly. Relations between councils, government and professionals were on a positive course, he believed. He offered to help some councils involved in legal battles over business rates revaluation.

'We accept that those in the firing line on important legal principles might need some extra help with costs', he told delegates. He said the DoE was discussing with the local authority associations how best to do this.

IRRV Director Colin Farrington, measuring Mr Curry's speech against president John Charman's call for policies not platitudes, said it was 'only half way there'. He said: 'It showed an ability to listen but action is more important. 'Every minister has given the same highly sympathetic answer but nothing has happened'.

Shadow Environment Minister Jack Straw, in his speech to the conference on Wednesday, accused the government of feeding public disillusionment and disadvantaging local Tory parties with its capping policy. He said capping made it difficult for Conservatives to show how differently they could run councils from Labour.

There are huge differences in council tax collection performance, Audit Commission local government studies director Bob Chilton told the conference. A commission study in 52 councils showed some had collected only a fifth of the tax by the end of July, while others had collected more than twice as much. Mr Chilton said the poor performers were often those with high poll tax arrears.

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