Access to Council Tax System

Dear All,

I know this has been discussed many times, but I thought it better to get an updated view of what access everyone has to Council Tax data?

We are currently given 12 or 6 monthly data on which properties are empty in our county, however with over 1300 of them and those are only the ones we know of! we are constantly contacting the CT department for into, as many of these properties aren't on the list we recieve.

We have asked for access to the Academy system which the CT use, does anyone else have access to this system, i,e, Read only mode? We are currently being told we cannot have access to this system - and we are trying to see what others have.

I would appreciate your feedback.

Thanks

Carwyn Roberts

Gwynedd Council

Forums: 
Council tax - discounts, access to info etc

Hi Carwyn,
Here in Ceredigion I have access (read only) to the Council Tax database, Academy.  A few different officers have access for varying reasons.
Coincidentally I am just reading 'A cure for Empty homes' by David Ireland and happen to be on the page about Council Tax data difficulties.  It says that powers are contained in section 85 of the Local Government Act 2003 with regard to us accessing data for identifying and bringing back into use empty dwelling so you may like to check this legislation.
The Council tax section may think they are fulfilling this duty by giving you the data on a regular basis, but I have found it invaluable for checking quickly, especially in cases where the property is not coded as a Long term Empty, but for example is empty due to probate, renovation or some other code.  We still get a 'empty properties list' at the beginning of the year, but this does not contain any other code than previous class 'C' or 'A' which have now migrated to LEC.
I still have cause to consult from time to time as I don't have full access, for example can't see any correspondance, but I consult the database a lot more often than i would like to ring the section.  For example whan i send out empty property questionnaires I check to see if the property is still empty.
Our Council Tax section are also very amenable to changing the coding based on my findings.
Hope this helps
Sarah Williams
Ceredigion Council

Sarah Williams

Public Protection Officer, Ceredigion County Council

Hi Carwyn,

At ECC, we've historically had a bit of a battle getting access to Council Tax. We used to recieve monthly lists of empties only. In 2010 we appealed to our legal team and were still denied access to the database. Some of this seemed to be a lack of understanding and good will in terms of staff and departments working together. But in late 2011 we tried again to build bridges - we invited C/T (along with Building Control, Planning and Environmental Health) to our monthly Empty Homes meetings (and bribed them with cakes!), copied and included them into our newsletter showcasing our work, and tried to demonstrate how we could both help each other, especially in regards to helping get the C/T records as up-to-date as possible in the light of New Homes Bonus benefits.  

In May 2013 we got a revised legal opinion, after C/T agreed to consider access, and we were given access to C/T on a read-only basis, after signing a confidentiality agreement about disclosing the information to the public, and agreeing to record the addresses we search for so that the service can be audited if needed. In late 2013, we were given write-access to C/T so we could add up-to-date contact details (phone numbers etc) and notes to the database, from data collected through NHB work. We still don’t change the status of properties on C/T, but it has saved a huge amount of time to have access to their records and notes screens.  
If you could email me at empty.homes@exeter.gov.ukI can send you across some of the information we used to get the decision for access, if that’s any help at all.
I can only say, a lot of patience and perseverance on the part of our Senior Officer led to the changes, and we continue to work very closely with C/T to try to maintain benefits to both services. Ultimately, I think changes in staff and the incentive of up-to-date C/T records for NHB were the big influences in the change for us.

Hope this is helpful! 

Rosie

Hi Carwyn
We now have read only access to the Academy system and it has helped us tremendously.
For a long time we had to email Ctax to give us the latest owner information which is unnecessarily time-consuming.  However, when we advised them that we were looking to target a lot of owners in an area for a specific project and so needed contact information, they allowed us temporary access initially as this would save them a lot of time.
However, government changes in ctax for long term empties, identifying the need to reduce numbers for new homes bounus and just working hard at developing a good relationship, have all helped us in empty homes retain access. We now have read only access to Academy and share relevant information between both departments to encourage accurate information.  It seems to work well and is definitely more cost effective and efficient. Revs & Bens can see a potential saving and income source from the work we do.
One  of the things that becomes clear is the differences between departments and definitions of empties, dates of changes and so on.  So where a neighbour might report a property as empty, we didn't have it on our list because it was exempt from ctax therefore they didn't put that info on the list.   But now we can look at the information and have a better understanding of why info differs, or at least question it and having a bit more 'history' helps us to develop a course of action with the owner that is hopefully, more suited.
Hope this helps
Alex
Empty Homes Officer
Preston City Council
 

I too have read only access to Council Tax.
Sue Li
 

Sue Li

Compulsory Purchase and Enforcement Officer

Derby City Council

We obtained our read only access just before the New Homes Bonus came in and we called a meeting with them.  Previous reluctance seemed to dissapear as they saw the bigger picture behind empty property statistics and the importance of our work.  So go in with a strategic case for ROA, especially as (in these days of efficiencies) for people in one council department to make it hard for people in another department to get the information they need to do their job properly and increase revenue makes no sense whatsoever.  Explain how by giving you access you will be able to help them meet their priorities. Since we got it  we have successfully traced a number of empty property owners who in significant CT arrears (where CT have failed to find them; given up or not had the resources to even try), enabling them to take recovery action and increase revenue. We also regularly identify owners who are receiving discounts they shouldn't as CT have not been aware they are empty, again, leading to increased revenues.  Also, make sure you present your case to the right person - I wouldn't go back to the officer who has turned down previous requests, go to the head of service as there will be more chance of them seeing the obvious arguments for giving you access rather than fining reasons not to.  Include with your case some examples of where you have been able to increase CT revenues as a result of sharing information (even without ROA) and then argue how much more/easier  you would be able to do this if ou had it.  If you don't have such examples (which wouldn't be surprising if they are making it that hard for you) then see if you can get some case studies from neighbouring authorities who have it experienced this benefit.  Also worth providing the name of a contact in the CT department of that neighbouring authority so that they can contact them if they need reassurance.  Don't give up, when you get it you will wonder how the heck you managed without it and so will they!