Council tax branded 'recipe for chaos': Residents vow to challenge property band evaluations amid warnings that local authorities face a squeeze on spending

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The Independent Online
IN SOME areas the council tax evaluation involved valuers 'driving down each road in second gear or glancing at aerial photographs', according to Jeremy Beecham, chairman of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities.

One city councillor has called it a 'recipe for chaos'.

London will be the area hardest hit by the new tax, the Association of London Authorities said yesterday, as lists of house price valuations went on display throughout the country.

High property prices mean that many more people will find themselves in higher valuation brackets. The collapse of the housing market has also been most marked in the capital, creating a greater differential between the valuation of properties in 1991, when the council tax evaluations were made, and their value now.

Thousands of people telephoned town halls yesterday to gauge how high their tax would be. In Hillingdon, west London, more than 600 people passed through the civic centre to check their listing. A council spokeswoman reported a 'mixed reaction' but many were so unhappy they vowed to appeal.

A spokeswoman for Harrow council in north-west London said that 200 people had called in person to check the listings and there had been more than 300 telephone inquiries.

Islington council, north London, received more than 300 telephone and personal inquiries. A spokeswoman said that the council was expecting many discrepancies. 'We can only advise people to compare their evaluation with that of similar properties and then advise them on how to appeal to the valuation office,' she said.

At Islington's valuation office, an official reported four calls from people already wishing to lodge appeals. A spokesman said: 'We just told them they could not appeal until April. What else is there to say.'

Barnet council in London said that there was 'confusion' among 350 callers and visitors.

One resident in Hackney, east London, who paid pounds 57,000 for a one-bedroom flat in July 1990 discovered that his home was in band D, having apparently risen in value by more than pounds 10,000. He said: 'It's outrageous. Clearly I shall have to appeal. But when I spoke to the council today they said they had no appeal forms yet.'

In Bath, Richard Jenkins, 53, one of a steady stream of town hall visitors, complained that a crude evaluation system had placed his property in the wrong band.

'You have got to look at houses individually. They vary tremendously, even in the same street. One thing about Bath crescents is that some of them are done up quite exquisitely and others are grotty 1950s conversions.' Mr Jenkins maintained that his coach house was at the 'grotty' end of the market and was in the process of being improved. It did not warrant its inclusion in the G band of between pounds 160,000 and pounds 320,000. He will appeal.

Philip Sharpe, 74, also said that he would appeal. He had just bought a new bungalow for pounds 90,000. It was valued in band F, starting at pounds 120,000. 'It's a bit much, thirty thousand over the present value even if property has come down in the past year.'

Most northern towns had a steady stream of callers and thousands of householders in Yorkshire are expected to appeal. In Leeds, where the poll tax is pounds 313 per person, council officers said that people in band C, which covers properties priced between pounds 52,000 and pounds 68,000, would pay around pounds 497 compared with the national average of around pounds 439.

There were some startling wins and losses in the transition from poll to council tax. One couple living in a three-bedroom terraced house in Leeds found that they had been placed in the lowest band and would save pounds 254 a year. But Cyril Johnson, who lives in a large detached house in Adel, one of Leeds' more affluent areas, discovered his property was in the second highest band and he would pay pounds 931 in the new tax, an increase of pounds 305 on the poll tax.

In North Yorkshire, where houses are more expensive, the district valuer's office is expecting at least 5,000 appeals. Rod Hills, leader of York city council, felt that the Department of the Environment had prepared a 'recipe for chaos'. He said: 'I think the whole of the system will be clogged up by an enormous number of appeals.'

In Manchester only 15 people went to the town hall to see the lists in the first hour. A spokesman said there was no point rushing in a city that has more than 71 per cent of its property in the lowest pricing band (A).

In Newcastle, the 12 volumes of figures attracted hundreds of visitors. Of the city's 120,763 properties, 63 per cent are in band A, 13 per cent in B and 14 per cent in C. The percentage in the top rated H band is less than 1 per cent.

Formal appeals will not be heard before next April when final valuation lists are produced.

The council tax bands cover properties valued in the following way: A - up to pounds 40,000; B - pounds 40,000- pounds 52,000; C - pounds 52,000- pounds 68,000; D - pounds 68,000-88,000; E- pounds 88,000- pounds 120,000; F - pounds 120,000- pounds 160,000; G - pounds 160,000- pounds 320,000; H - more than pounds 320,000.

(Photograph omitted)