Government to close Valuation Office Agency in St Albans as cost-cutting measure
PUBLISHED: 12:03 06 January 2017
A second major government organisation is set to quit St Albans.
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA), which occupies two floors in St Peter’s House in Victoria Street, is due to leave its central location in December 2017.
The service, which sets the council tax bands of local properties, has been operating in St Albans for over two decades and has more than 50 employees.
A spokesman for the agency told the Herts Advertiser: “Our aim is to become more modern and efficient in the use of public money.”
He added, “we are not looking to make redundancies as part of this process”.
The spokesman confirmed that the office was scheduled to close in December, saying, “we will consult fully with colleagues in St Albans about their options for the future, which include working from another VOA location or working from home.”
This paper understands that the valuation work is being relocated to Wembley, and discussions have been taking place with staff about the move since the end of last year.
A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union said it had not been involved with negotiations, and thus could not comment on the looming branch closure.
In 2014, in another cost-cutting measure, the government closed its HM Inland Revenue and Customs enquiry centre in Beauver House, Bricket Road.
And just last month, this paper broke the news that crime-busting centre, the future of the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) at Woodcock Hill in Sandridge, is under review.
The secure base employs about 250 people, who support the Home Office in policing and tackling crime, counter-terrorism, border security and controlling immigration.
Among the options being considered are closure of the site, or merging it with the government’s Porton Down research establishment in Wiltshire.
Prospect, the trade union for scientists and engineers, has voiced its concern about the potential for job losses, especially given the expertise and knowledge of CAST staff.
VOA RESPONSIBLE FOR SETTING PROPERTY COUNCIL TAX BANDS
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) sets the council tax band for properties across the district.
Those who disagree have to contact the listing officer at the VOA – rather than the council – to appeal and have the band changed, if successfully opposed.
However, a Herts Advertiser investigation of decisions made by the Valuation Tribunal for England shows a mixed result in the past year following panel hearings.
Of the six local council tax valuation appeals heard in 2016, four were dismissed, and of the two successful decisions, one was only allowed in part.
Among those dismissed was an appeal for the tax band of a home in Aldwickbury Crescent in Harpenden, where the tribunal confirmed the VOA’s assessment in relation to a self-contained annexe and a two-storey detached house at the same site.
The issue was whether the homes should be included as a separate entry in the valuation list, or whether the annexe should be merged with that of the house, particularly as the addition was not for separate living but apparently used by the family living there.
The tribunal dismissed the appeal, saying that while the proposal “in effect sought a merger of the two properties” the flat had been “and is available to let separately from the main house and that any tenant enjoyed exclusive occupation of the annexe”.
In another dismissed appeal, the appellant gave examples of other homes close to his property in Windmill Avenue, St Albans, which had been placed in lower council tax bands.
However the panel placed “little weight” on the comparisons made with the sale price of the appellant’s previous home in The Ridgeway, and dismissed the appeal.
The panel has four more appeals to consider this month and in February, after property owners opposed tax bands given for homes in Wheathampstead, Markyate and St Albans.
• For more information see http://www.stalbans.gov.uk/council-tax/appealsagainstband.aspx or https://www.valuationtribunal.gov.uk