As Council budgets are squeezed ever tighter and headcount continues to decline, generating additional revenue and maximising council resources has never been more important. An often overlooked area is Property Inspections, particularly as tenants don’t have a duty to inform the Council of occupation. This means the onus is on the Council to carry out thorough inspections to ensure systems are kept fully up to date for billing purposes. With the right people, processes and technology in place, this needn’t be a complex task.
Identifying liability to pay
By carrying out regular Property Inspections, Authorities can ensure they keep on top of changes in tenants, circumstances, property developments and exemption statuses. This is important because “no one is under an obligation to make a payment until they are issued with a bill in their name or, if they are jointly and severally liable, with a joint taxpayers’ notice.” – a direct quote taken from the Citizens Advice website.
Unless the liability is identified by the Authority and bills sent out promptly, you could be losing out on thousands and thousands of pounds in uncollected Council Tax. You need people in your Authority to identify quickly when properties change hands, when exemption statuses change, when new properties come into use and when empty properties reach the six-month stage. You can’t just rely on the goodwill of citizens and developers to inform you every time there is a change in circumstance, address or new tenants.
Better tracking and targeting of Property Inspections
Taking things a step further, you should be proactively tracking property developments and ideally be able to list all of the new developments that are in progress, the value of them, the stage they are at and at what date they are expected to come into taxation.
Every Council has a responsibility to collect the tax that is due to them and whilst it is generally good practice to do things like check newspapers for property adverts and promotions to help keep billing data up to date, there are more effective, less labour intensive ways to achieve the same results. For instance, using a Property Inspection module will enable you to track all data related to all the properties in your Authority. It can help you identify quite quickly how many are currently listed as empty, what tax exemptions apply and any new developments in the pipeline. Having this information freely available and searchable means that Property Inspectors can be more focussed on which properties they target for inspection. Alerts can also be set up to let an Inspector know when a property has been empty for over six months meaning it can start to be taxed again and effectively automate what can be a very labour intensive process, comparing numerous spreadsheets and data across different sources.
Using the right tools to drive more revenue with less effort
Property Inspectors can be set up to achieve a higher rate of success because the module allows them to search properties against a number of parameters, increasing the likelihood that the Inspectors will more easily identify those properties which are back in use. For example a quick search against properties which are currently exempt because students are living in the accommodation, cross referenced with how long that exemption has been in place might indicate those students should have graduated and left the property by now. If this is the case the onus is on the Authority to identify whether that exemption status can now be removed.
Any number of search parameters and criteria can be set up to automate the process of trawling through vast amounts of disparate property data to pinpoint trends and flag instances where further inspection is required.
Easily track changes and additions to properties that might impact tax bands
Other areas for consideration are improvements and the ability to track where very large additions and changes are made to a property to the extent that it impacts the Council Tax band and residents should actually be paying more in tax. Again with the help of a Property Inspection module you can categorise all properties to identify where maintenance and improvements have been carried out, for example bedroom extensions and the additions of family annexes and mark these out for Inspection to identify if tax rates can be increased.
Taking this more proactive approach to property management in your Authority offers a number of benefits. Firstly, you can increase tax collections whilst at the same time reducing the amount of effort needed to achieve this through automation and secondly the more empty properties you bring back into use, the more ‘new homes bonus’ you can claim.