Rating Manual - Volume 3 - Section 6 :Inspections and Miscellaneous Administrative Matters

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Section 6 : Inspections and Miscellaneous Administrative Matters

1. Management Matters

Management matters are dealt with in HR Manuals. They should be read in conjunction with the instructions contained in this Manual which deals specifically with Rating procedures. If an apparent conflict of instructions arises, the matter should be referred to CEO for advice.

2. Delegation of Responsibility

2.1 General

VOs should encourage delegation, initiative and interest at all levels amongst all their staff so that abilities and potential are developed and used to the best advantage.

2.2 Managerial control of assessment-making

However, VOs must ensure that all staff are fully aware of the limits of their delegated responsibilities and management control must be such that inexperienced staff are not allowed to deal with cases unsupervised which are beyond their capabilities. Whilst it is both reasonable and practical for staff gaining experience to take responsibility for assessments in straightforward cases, where a property does not fall into a recognised pattern of values the opinion of an experienced member of staff is to be obtained before an assessment is finalised.

2.3 Opportunities to gain Tribunal experience

All HEO to Grade 6 staff (except those excused surveying assistance duties) should be given the opportunity to gain experience in conducting cases before Valuation Tribunals.

3. Inspection of rating records

3.1 General

Para 8(1) and 8(6-10) and para 9(1-4) of Schedule 9 to the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (as amended by the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 Schedule 5 para 48) gives any person the right to inspect and take copies or transcripts of, or extracts from, various rating records without payment.

These records include:-

  • a list currently in force or a list in force at any time in the preceding 5 years; and
  • any proposal or notice of appeal as regards a list which is in force or has been in force in the preceding 5 years

However, a person may require the VO to provide photo copies of any of the above documents and a reasonable charge may be made for complying with the request.

3.2 The Rating List

Legally, the rating list is in the possession of the VO and the Billing Authority retain only a copy. Para 8(1) of Schedule 9 to the LGFA 1988 states that access should be afforded to any person to any information held in a rating list, without payment.

However, if any person contacts the VO in writing or by telephone and asks for information to be supplied relating to any number of hereditaments, he/she must be made aware, before the relevant information is supplied, that a charge is levied on this service and the information will be supplied on receipt of a cheque or postal order (made payable to the Inland Revenue). Details of payment procedure can be found in Customer Service Manual –Part 17 – Sale of Information.

Schedule 5 to the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 permits a charge to be made for the above service. This should be done using form VO7034 (RM Appendix 3:6:1) On receipt the relevant information should be forwarded to the enquirer using form VO7035 (RM Appendix 3:6:2)

4. Inspection of Property

4.1 General

Referencing procedures are outlined in the Rating Maintenance and Rating Appeals Process Maps. The Referencing Manager will review all cases received to decide whether an inspection is required.

With effect from 6 April 2015 the Home Office has published a code of best practice in support of powers of entry. The code states that a minimum of 72 hours notice must be given before exercising a power of entry or that entry is made with the consent of the occupier or owner.

A power of entry is provided for Non-domestic property in the Local Government Finance Act 1988 and for Domestic property in the Local Government Finance Act 1992.

Under the code of best practice consent to enter a domestic property is also required when exercising a power of entry.

The vast majority of inspections undertaken by the Valuation Office Agency are already carried out with the consent of the occupier, it is in the occupier's best interest that we have accurate records about their property and can therefore value it correctly and fairly in comparison to other properties in the list.

Our current inspection policies are largely code compliant however from 6 April 2015 to ensure that we are following the code for every inspection that is carried out, the officer must record the date and the name of the person giving consent to enter onto premises in the case remarks on the CDB.

Inspections should be arranged to take place during normal office hours although this does not preclude arrangements being made otherwise if this is more convenient to the occupier.

Staff will still be able to deal with the majority of cases by 'Cold Calling' provided they have been given consent to enter and survey premises by the occupier. Staff may find that the occupier is unwilling to allow an inspection to be made at that time, in which case a mutually convenient appointment should be arranged to return, if at all possible.

A note of the name of the person allowing entry and the date must be recorded in the case notes.

Where an officer calls at a property and it is apparent that there is no one there, he/she should not undertake an inspection and proceed in accordance with para 6.

In dealing with proposals, however, it will be necessary to make a definite appointment by email, telephone or letter in order to ensure that the maker of the proposal is available to discuss the matter at the time of the inspection.

Again you must record the date and the name of the person giving consent to enter onto the premises in the case remarks on the CDB.

4.2 Inspection notices

Inspection letters should be used whenever they are likely to reduce the number of abortive visits. Their use is obligatory whenever visits are proposed to agricultural properties (see also para 8).

Templates for the inspection letter are held in EDRM. There is a letter for inspecting complex properties and a letter for inspection of more straight forward properties. Both are reproduced at Appendix 4 and Appendix 3 to this section.

The letter can be addressed to 'The Occupier' at the property address where the name is not known. Where a property is unoccupied but you have the owner's details the letter may be sent to the owner's address or to an agent acting on the owner's behalf.

A minimum of 72 hours, plus posting time should always be given when specifying the date and time of a proposed visit. This will enable an occupier who is habitually away from the premises during normal office hours to make arrangements for the visit or, alternatively, to email, telephone or write to the office for a more convenient appointment.

Whenever an appointment is made, the officer concerned should make every effort to carry out the inspection on the appointed day and, where appropriate, at the time stated.

A copy of the letter must be saved to the NDR case file within EDRM. Where the letter is emailed to the occupier, owner or an agent a copy of the email enclosing the letter should also be saved with the case in EDRM.

4.3 Identity documents

Every member of staff, other than those at AA (except those excused surveying assistance duties), is issued with an identity document, form VO 9053.

The following additional documents are issued locally to certain staff:-

  • Authorisation for any member of staff to "enter on, survey and value the hereditament"
  • Authorisation for those officers who are to represent the VO at VCCT hearings.

For further instructions on the issue, care, use and security of identity documents see Personnel Manual Section 20 - Part 2 and RM Vol 1 sect 1 para 7

4.4 Production of identity documents

All officers should pay particular attention to the need to exercise tact when making inspections. Officers should proffer their identity document for inspection as a matter of course when introducing themselves and not wait to see if production of the document is demanded.

Under no circumstances, even when the proper formalities have been observed, should a visiting officer insist upon entry if the occupier refuses permission. Where an officer is given permission to enter the premises but, before the inspection is complete, the occupier asks him/her to leave, he/she should comply with the request without question or delay. Where entry is refused or an inspection is terminated for no apparent reason, the facts should be reported to the VO who, depending on the circumstances, may report the matter, through the Team Leader/Unit Head

It is the responsibility of all those engaged on inspection work to take the utmost care to ensure that the public in general, and occupiers in particular, are given no cause for concern, and to identify themselves readily whenever they are challenged.

A comparatively trivial or seemingly insignificant irregularity may provide an opportunity for complaint. Any risk of an allegation that powers of entry on to private property are being abused must therefore be avoided.

4.5 Inspection permits or special passes

Certain bodies, such as the British Airports Authority, prefer to issue their own inspection permits or special passes to Valuation Office staff and these should be used whenever property belonging to such bodies is to be inspected.

4.6 Obtaining permission to inspect

Any officer visiting a property for inspection purposes should be reasonably certain that any person giving permission for an inspection to be made has the authority to do so.

4.7 Only a minor present

If an officer is confronted with a situation where only a minor (child) is present on the premises, under no circumstances should any inspection of the property be made either internally or externally. This also extends to the taking of , or checking of dimensions.

On returning to the office, the officer should send a letter to the occupier explaining the circumstances and, an appointment should be made with a request that an adult will be present on the next occasion.

4.8 Domestic Property where no one is present

An external inspection and photographs may only be made with the prior consent of the occupier, even where a letter has been sent giving the required notice, you also must have received consent to enter onto and survey the premises.

Consent may be given over the telephone, by email or in writing, a note of the person giving verbal consent and the date of the conversation must be recorded in the case notes on the CDB.

4.9 Request to leave

Any request to leave the premises must be complied with as soon as is practicable.

Where there is still a need to inspect the property because you have not gathered sufficient information to make an opinion of value, you should advise the occupier that a further inspection will be necessary and that an inspection letter will be sent to them.

5. Conduct of an Inspection

5.1 General

The law imposes certain obligations and reserves certain rights to the public which are material to the functions of the Valuation Office Agency. Staff have a duty to give all reasonable assistance to the public to enable them to fulfil their obligations and obtain their rights within the context of an inspection and to deal with any relevant matters raised during the course of the visit which are within the responsibility of the Valuation Office Agency.

At the start of any inspection you should enquire whether there are any hazardous areas or parts of the property where additional care is needed.

5.2 Answering enquiries

The inspection of a person's property is a sensitive matter and it is essential that this duty is carried out in a tactful, courteous and diligent manner. It is important to be as helpful as possible. If the occupier makes an enquiry about a matter which is within the responsibility of the officer conducting the inspection, it should be answered strictly within the limits of his or her knowledge and experience. Staff should tactfully avoid discussing matters with which they are not familiar and any valuation or legal matters outside their responsibility. Information given in good faith, but not soundly based, may mislead the occupier and, in the end, do more harm than good.

5.3 Occupier's participation

The occupier should be encouraged to accompany the officer during the inspection. Although this may prove distracting, it has positive advantages in that the occupier will be made aware of the thoroughness of the inspection and may be prompted to make observations which could yield useful information or provide the opportunity to resolve any difficulties or misunderstandings on the spot. If a matter is raised which is outside the knowledge, experience or responsibility of the officer concerned, he or she should make a note of it and inform the occupier that the comment or enquiry will receive consideration. A brief written report should be made, attached to the survey record and linked with the core record file for the attention of the officer responsible.

Where it is apparent that the occupier is dissatisfied with the current valuation, a follow up letter or telephone call should be made to discuss and explain the basis of valuation in more detail. They should be advised that if as a result of the visit the list is altered they will receive a VO notice against which they have the right to make a proposal if they still consider the list entry to be incorrect.

The occupier should be directed to the GOV.UK website through which they can access the VOA website and make a proposal if they are eligible to do so. If the occupier does not have internet access and wants to make a proposal, the officer should make a note of the fact and ensure that arrangements are made for one to be sent from the office as soon as possible, having first checked that the occupier is eligible to make a proposal.

If it appears that the occupier is not eligible, the proposal form should still be sent with an accompanying note explaining the position.

6. Abortive Visits to Hereditaments

6.1 Use of stock letters

Where a previously suggested appointment has not been kept by the occupier or in those cases mentioned in para 4.1 a stock letter should be left at the premises.

Stock letters in the form of RM Appendix 3:6:4 should be produced on A4 size letter-headed paper and officers engaged on surveying assistance duties should make full use of them.

6.2 Completion of stock letters

Before leaving a stock letter at the premises the following details should be completed on the site:-

i) After "The Occupier", insert the address of the property;

ii) The office telephone number at the head of the letter should be amplified by the insertion of the appropriate extension number;

iii) In the body of the letter, give an indication of the alterations, the date of the next proposed visit and the approximate time of arrival, stating that it is approximate.

iv) The letter should be attached to a business-reply label and pushed through the letter box.

6.3 Recording of abortive visits

A note of the abortive visit with the date should be made in the case remarks on the CDB.

6.4 Vacant or Derelict Property

Photographs and survey notes may be taken from the public highway but you must not enter the curtilage and take any external measurements, photographs or survey notes without the prior consent to do so from the owner.

No internal inspection should be made of any vacant or derelict buildings for safety reasons, additional care should be exercised when inspecting derelict buildings externally.

7. Difficulties in Inspecting Property

7.1 Before alteration of the List

Where consent to inspect a property has been given by the owner or an agent acting in respect of a proposal and the occupier refuses to give consent, where possible the owner or agent should be contacted, and asked to speak directly to the occupier to explain why entry is required.

If the occupier is not sufficiently reassured to then consent to the inspection a further appointment with the owner or agent in attendance should be arranged.

Where an officer is unable to make an inspection of a property because the occupier refuses to give permission, even though an inspection notice or stock letter has been issued and the identity document proffered, and declines to agree to an appointment for a later date, the occupier should be politely informed that the matter will be reported to the VO.

Similarly, where an officer is unable to inspect a property because the occupier fails to respond to an inspection notice or a stock letter and is habitually away from the premises, the officer should report the matter to the officer-in-charge and seek advice on the next course of action.

Normally, in such cases, an individual letter will then be sent to the occupier couched in the terms of RM Appendix 3:6:5, the last two paragraphs of which may be adapted to suit the circumstances of the case although no wording should be included which may be construed as a threat to take proceedings. A business-reply label should always be enclosed.

If the sending of such a letter does not result in facilities for an inspection being given, the VO should make a best estimate of the assessment on the information available and by comparison with other similar properties, adjusting, if necessary, for any differences in internal construction believed to exist.

It will be seen from para 7 Sch 9 LGFA 1988 that there are no means open to the Valuation Officer to insist upon entry on to property for the purpose of rating.

In October 2015 the VO power of entry under current regulations will be amended so that a power of entry will be by application to the first tier tribunal where the VO satisfies the tribunal that entry is necessary. If an occupier still refuses to permit entry following an order from the tribunal they will be liable to a fine.

If the VO believes that it is essential to gain access to a property and consent is refused advice must be sought from the Technical Adviser, NSU.

7.2 At appeal stages
  • Valuation Tribunal

Where a case worker considers it necessary to make a internal inspection of a property prior to an appeal hearing, an inspection letter should be used provided there is sufficient time to give at least 72 hours notice. Otherwise consent to enter must be obtained from the occupier.

Where consent to enter is refused, the case worker acting as 'an expert witness' must make clear to the tribunal those matters they can confirm as facts and those matters they cannot confirm. So if you have inspected the property externally you can confirm that the building still exists or that there are no extensions to the property. You can express an 'expert opinion' based upon what you have seen externally supplemented by any survey notes and plans gathered by another officer.

Where it has not been possible to make any inspection of the property and you are relying solely on the case file survey, plans and photographs you will only be able to act as an Advocate on behalf of the VO and you should make this clear to the tribunal at the outset of the hearing.

  • Upper Tribunal

The instructions contained above equally apply to an Upper Tribunal hearing however if consent to enter the property is refused advice from the Technical Adviser, NSU should be sought.

8. Inspection of Properties where special precautions are required

8.1 General

Generally, officers engaged on inspections should co-operate with occupiers and comply with any reasonable requests which may be made regarding the date, time or conduct of inspections, or any particular requirements made necessary by the nature of the hereditament to be inspected. This is particularly important when visits are made to farms and similar properties and the advice of the police should always be followed in cases involving outbreaks of foot and mouth or other diseases.

Co-operation with the occupier's request would not, however, extend to the officer concerned agreeing to undertake to relieve the occupier of his liability for any injury suffered by the officer during the inspection. If an undertaking of this type, whether verbal or written, is required by the occupier, CEO should be consulted, before the inspection of the hereditament is undertaken.

8.2 Health and Safety

There are special requirements concerning the use of sterile clothing, etc when buildings used for intensive livestock production are inspected. You must comply with any occupier requirements to wear any specialist over wear.

9. Damage to Private Property during Inspections

Where damage to private property occurs during an inspection, photographs must be taken of the damage and a short report prepared whilst still at the premises if possible. The report should record the facts of what happened and describe the extent of the damage. The report should be signed and dated by the officer and the occupier wherever possible. The occupier should be provided with a copy of the report and copies of the photographs on return to the office.

The occupier should be informed that the report and photographs will be forwarded to the Customer Services Manager who will contact them directly to discuss the matter.

No comment should be made regarding how the matter will be resolved as each case will be different based upon the facts.

10. Signing of Documents

10.1 Use of name-stamps

Use of the office stamps bearing the names of the VO and any authorised person is authorised for:-

  • VO notices;
  • documents having effect as appeals to VT's;
  • copies of the above documents; and
  • forms of rent return.

Such use is not authorised for:-

  • forms of agreement;
  • certificates or statements of apportionment issued by virtue of any statutes.
10.2 VO's powers of delegation

Any person, authorised by the VO, has an ex officio power to sign, or authorise the use of a name-stamp on, all the documents listed in sub-para (2) above. The signature, or name, will be qualified with the words "for Valuation Officer".

A VO may issue an authority for specified billing authorities or to any member of staff of band 4 or above, to sign forms of agreement; in such cases, the member of staff’s signature will be qualified with the words "for Valuation Officer". See RM Vol 1 sect 1 para 7.

10.4 UT cases

See RM 1:5.

RM Vol 1 sect 1 para 7

10.5 Correspondence

See Customer Service Manual – Part 5 – General Enquiries.

11. Queries to and attitude to the Press

Under no circumstances should queries be addressed to the professional Press. Similarly, articles, correspondence or other matters appearing in the technical or daily Press which suggest a departure from orthodox practice or procedure should not influence a VO unless or until so instructed by CEO.

See also Corporate Communications Intranet Home Page containing a link to “Dealing with the Media”.

12. Filing of Survey and Valuation Sheets

All papers relating to inspection must be kept within EDRM. Survey and valuation sheets will be kept within EDRM in the relevant assessment folder. Inspection letters must be kept within EDRM in the relevant case number folder.

Verbal consent to enter and survey is acceptable but the name of the consent giving consent to enter and the date of the conversation should be recorded in the case remarks on the CDB

13. Copies of Rating Lists to Third Parties

Statutory undertakers and drainage boards may be supplied, by arrangement, with copies of the rating lists and amendments.

13.1 Charges

Annual charges, which are reviewed on a yearly basis and issued in advance, are levied on the individual statutory undertakers or boards.

When an existing or a newly-constituted statutory undertaker makes its first request for a copy of a rating list details should be sent to CEO who will issue the necessary instructions including details of the accounting arrangements.

14. Local Purchases by VOs

14.1 Maps and plans

See Finance Manual Section 5 and Human Resources – Supplies and Services Intranet homepage.

14.2 Official guide books to Mansion Houses and Stately Homes

See Rating Manual Volume 5:1000, Finance Manual Section 5 and Human Resources – Supplies and Services Intranet Homepage .

15. Photographs for production at a VT, the UT or in Arbitration

See Rating Manual volume 1:4 Part C and Rating Manual Volume 1:5.

Photographs that are publicly available on sites such as Google Maps may be viewed online but these must not be copied or saved to any VOA storage device.

Google Earth and Rightmove should not be accessed for NDR appeal work.

Before taking photographs of a property you must ensure you have the occupiers consent to do so unless you are taking the photograph from the public highway.

16. Postcodes

16.1Rating documents

Whenever the postcode is available, it should be inserted in the address panel on all rating documents being transmitted by post. This will be particularly important when copies of VO notices are being posted and there is a statutory time limit for service. As delivery times will vary throughout the country VOs should try to establish from the Head Postmaster what the normal delivery times are in their areas so that sufficient allowance can be made when posting documents.

16.2 New properties

In the case of newly-erected properties, where the postcode will not normally be listed in the postcode directory held by the VO, enquiries should be made to the Postcode Section of the local Head Post Office. Any other difficulties over postcodes should be resolved similarly.

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