Caroline Spelman has accused the Deputy Prime Minister of seeking to expand the role of the local taxation system, just as bills are already set to increase at twice the inflation rate this year.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives have published explosive new evidence of plans to introduce a new 'DIY tax' and 'garden tax'. The new health and safety manual for the Valuation Office Agency, an arm of Inland Revenue, which trains the inspectors for Mr Prescott's council tax valuations, reveals that inspectors are to be armed with a range of tape measures, the latest laser measuring devices for assessing the size of a room, and cameras, including telescopic lenses, with instructions to 'develop your own inspection style'.
The 'Big Brother' tax snoops must note down the size of each room, and well as other 'codes' like number of bedrooms, parking spaces and 'value significant' features like patios, scenic views or central heating. Inspectors will also be issued with personal attack alarms to protect them from 'squatters, vagrants, aggressive tenants and property owners' angry at the intrusion. Lists are being drawn up of potentially violent householders. The inspectors are explicitly instructed not to give any advice to householders on how to pay council tax bills, nor to defend the merits of the Government's council tax plans.
Meanwhile, letters sent by leading retailer, B&Q, to Mr Prescott's department, express alarm that his revaluation plans will create a 'stealth tax' on central heating, double glazing, new bathrooms, kitchens, conservatories, garages and extensions - due to the Government broadening the definition of home improvements and extending the scope of council tax. At the same time, garden improvements will also be taken into account in calculating council tax levies. Documents show that part of the inspectors' job is to record 'value significant' features of patios, gardens, and the plot size of the property.
Mrs Spelman, the Shadow Secretary for Local Government, protested: 'This evidence of extensive planning for invasive inspections of family homes proves that John Prescott wants to extend the scope of council tax, turning it into a DIY and garden tax. We now know why the Government has spent£10 million on a 'Big Brother' computer database to log and store this information and photographs of people's homes.'
She added: 'Thanks to stamp duty going through the roof, many hard-working families have decided not to move but to invest and renovate their home. This is a Catch 22 scenario: the Labour Government will tax you if you move and tax you if you don't. I fear that people who have saved and worked hard face soaring tax bills, without any improvements in the local services. The case for cancelling the looming council tax revaluation, and scrapping the powers of inspectors to enter people's homes and gardens, has never been stronger.'
Commenting on the surveys showing the inflationary increases now facing millions of households this year, Mrs Spelman said: 'This is very hard for people on fixed incomes, pensioners in particular. It means council tax has risen 80 per cent since 1997, and is really hurting people on fixed incomes.'
Accusing the Government of abusing the tax, Mrs Spelman added: 'The trouble is that Labour has allowed the tax to rise to such a level that people now protest and find it hard to pay. Ministers have used council tax as a stealth tax and that is what's causing so much anger up and down the country.'
Mrs Spelman said the answer to the problem was not to switch to a local income tax levy, but to reduce council tax to sustainable levels. 'The Government could and should do that, but instead, ministers just allow the tax to increase, and it's that which is hurting.'