Maths lessons for inspectors so they don't miss an inch of your home

By Jonathan Oliver
POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT

NUMBER'S UP: An extract from the maths handbook to be issued to inspectors to help size up homes

COUNCIL tax inspectors are being given maths and geometry lessons to help them spy on homeowners. The Government snoopers are to be taught Pythagoras's Theorem and algebraic equations in readiness for a Labour property tax revaluation. The Mail on Sunday has obtained a Government handbook detailing the formulae inspectors will use to ensure they do not miss a single square foot when they enter people's houses. Under the heading 'phunky formulae' the document explains how to use geometry to calculate areas when irregular shapes are created by bay windows, chimney breasts and loft extensions. It means that no part of people's home - however small - will escape the new tax net.
Although Ministers insist that the planned council tax revaluation is on hold until after the next General Election, Government inspectors are quietly continuing to build up a database on every home in England and Wales. This will include detailed information about the condition of the property and its internal and external area. It will also take into account location - and proximity to golf courses. It means that when Labour announces its expected overhaul of local taxation, much of the data needed to draw up new council tax bands will already be stored on Government computers.
The information is available for collection now because the Government has a contract with the property web-site Rightmove to access its archive of sales particulars for homes that have been on the market. The official database will still have many gaps when the revaluation is finally given the go-ahead. So when it does happen, millions of householders can expect to receive a knock on the door from inspectors equipped with laser measuring devices. The property data is being compiled by the Valuation Office Agency, an arm of the Treasury which employs 5,000 staff, including 600 inspectors dedicated to collecting council tax information.
A report commissioned by Gordon Brown last month raised the prospect of big tax hikes under a new council-tax system which could push millions of homes into higher bands.Sir Michael Lyons proposed new 'super bands' for the most expensive properties in the South East. Many ordinary homeowners would be hit as a result of the recent rises in the values of homes they may have owned for decades.
A separate revaluation in Northern Ireland has caused a political revolt as impoverished pensioners have faced an overnight doubling of their tax bills. Conservative local government spokeswoman Caroline Spelman said: 'Giving tax inspectors special lessons in how to calculate the internal space of people's homes shows Gordon Brown will stop at nothing to drive council taxes up further. 'Regardless of people's privacy, this handbook aims to ensure that not one square foot of people's homes escapes taxation.'
The Valuation Office Agency's handbook reveals just how ambitious its attempts to update the property database have become. The book dubs the so-called 'Phunky Formula' as 'all the formulae you'll ever need and some you'll hope you never use!!' It goes on to reveal the extraordinary detail of the measurements required: 'For council tax purposes dimensions should be shown to two places of decimals, areas to one place of decimals.' And it explains how Pythagoras's Theorem can be used to calculate dimensions of right-angled triangles potentially useful for calculating the size of awkward loft spaces and areas created by dormer windows. There is also an explanation of how to use the mathematical constant pi to calculate the area covered by curved spaces. This would help inspectors calculate the space occupied by round bay windows, found in millions of suburban homes. And the handbook also explains how to measure the area of irregular four-sided shapes to make sure that odd-shaped gardens or rooms in old houses can be accurately sized up.
The VOA insists it has no powers to force its way into people's homes but admits inspectors would 'sometimes' ask to visit a property 'when the information it needs cannot be ascertained from other sources'. A spokesman said: 'This is routine guidance for keeping existing records up to date. That has been the VOA's job since 1993 when the last Government introduced council tax and nothing has changed. 'Anyone who opposes proper training to carry out routine work is advocating inaccurate valuations which no one in their right mind would want.'

As all school pupils OUGHT to know, Pythagoras's Theorem states that in any right-angled triangle, the square of the longest side is equal to the sum of the squares of the two other sides.

266 ways the Government can enter your house
- and you can't stop them

By Mark Nicol

IT COULD be a statistic straight from George Orwell's chilling masterpiece 1984 - State officials have 266 justifications to enter your home. Alas, the figure is not a figment of Orwell's imagination but the reality of Britain in 2007. The table on the right shows some of the many powers today's army of health and safety inspectors, bailiffs, Customs officers, quango officials and policemen can use to gain entry to your property. A study by the Centre for Policy Studies found that 25 new statutory powers to enter private properties had arisen since 2000, adding to the 120 granted legislative approval in the Eighties and Nineties. The others date back further. In most cases entry, if denied, can be gained by force. Homeowners face fines and criminal charges if they obstruct officials who knock on their doors. Study author Richard Snook said: 'This research shows the State today enjoys widespread access to what was previously considered to be the private domain. 'Some of the new entry powers have their origins in EU directives and regulations, rather than with an Act of Parliament passed by the UK's elected legislators.' Shadow Home Secretary David 'Davis said: 'This is a sinister reflection of the power the State AM's in the lives of the citizen.

JUST A FEW OF THE LAWS THEY USE

  • 2006 Animals and Animal Products Regulations 'Inspections related to Common Agricultural Policy'
  • 2006 EC Fertilisers Regulations 'Supervise fertiliser use'
  • 2006 Childcare Act 'Where childcare is suspected of being provided in contravention of licensing requirements'
  • 2006 Products of Animal Origin Regulations 'Check for compliance with import controls'
  • 2006 Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies Regulations 'Prevent spread of BSE etc'
  • 2005 Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 'Switch off noisy alarm'
  • 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act 'Search for person to be made subject of control order and serve notice'
  • 2005 Animal By-Products Regulations 'Inspect for compliance with EC rules on animal by-products'
  • 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act
    'Enter to search for non-qualified provision of immigration advice or related services'
  • 2004 Housing Act 'Ascertain compliance with housing standards or related services
  • 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act 'Inspection of high hedges'
  • 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act 'Carry out work on graffiti'
  • 2003 Money Laundering Act 'Inspect for evidence of money laundering offences
  • 2003 Communications Act 'Search for evidence of unlicensed TV watching'
  • 2002 Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 'Search for evidence of tobacco advertising offences'
  • 2002 Copyright and Trade Marks Act 'Search for evidence of dishonestly receiving transmissions for which payment is required'
  • 2002 Adoption and Children Act 'Inspect premises where adopted child is living'
  • 2001 EC Competition Law 'Inspect for compliance with EC Competition rules'
  • 2000 Utilities Act 'Inspect electrical kit used in supply, repair kit, remove meter, inspections related to electricity supply'
  • 1999 Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 'Search for documents relating to administration of pension scheme'
  • 1998 Land Mines Act 'Carry out fact-finding mission in accordance with Ottawa Convention on Landmines'
  • 1998 Competition Act 'Obtain evidence of restrictive trading, cartel offences or abuse of dominant market position'
  • 1980 Bees Act 'Check for the presence of foreign bees'
  • 1955 Children and Young Persons Act 'To search for materials used to produce horror comics'

Read all 266 reasons at www.mailonsunday.co.uk/266

The Mail on Sunday Apr22,2007


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