Audit Commission Campaign to obtain copies of full electoral register in order to label large numbers of electors receiving a single person discount as 'high risk fraud cases' on the spurious grounds that by matching it with council tax data sets it can tell when people are not entitled to a Section 11 discount of 25% or that at some point months or years before the electoral register in question was compiled electors had made false claims about who lived at their address

K Hodgkinson made this Freedom of Information request to Electoral Commission

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was partially successful.

Dear Sir or Madam,

Please send me copies of all letters, briefings and any other such materials provided to the electoral commission by the Audit Commission in support of its campaign to be able to use the electoral register to match against council tax Section 11 (sometimes called single occupant or single person) discounts.

Please include any materials in which it is asserted (albeit falsely) that this data match indicates that people are not entitled to the discount that has been deducted from their council tax bill or that it will be used for the sole purpose of identifying 'potential frauds'

Please also send me any materials which report discussions of this matching by the Electoral Commission or any submissions made to Parliament by the Electoral Commission in respect of data matching involving the electoral register.

Please also send me any materials in which the question of issuing fair processing notices to electors whose data will be matched by the Commission for such purposes has been discussed by the Audit Commission.

Please also include any discussions or policy statements etc produced by the Electoral Commission, including committee minutes that cover the use of the electoral register by the credit reference company Experian, which has resulted in thousands and thousands of people complaining to their local councils all over the country, and which was judged by the Information Commissioner to have been done in breach of the Data Processing Act and to give rise to cause for action by innocent entitled people who were falsely suspected of fraud as a result of that particular data matching activity.

If there have been no such discussions, please explain why not.

Please could you tell me whether the Electoral Commission has considered the possibility that the knowledge, provided via ironically misleadingly named 'fair processing notices', that if a person who falls to be disregarded for council tax purposes is on the electoral register for an address the housholders will be labelled as a 'high risk' fraud case by the audit commission and subjected to a fraud investigation by local audit teams even though they are fully entitled to the discount and have done nothing wrong will deter people from registering to vote.

If not, why not, please?

Yours faithfully,

K Hodgkinson

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

I mean of course, that this will deter honest entitled people who regard being highlighted, flagged and labelled as a high risk fraud, and being investigated on that basis as so terrible that they would rather lose the right to vote than go through it.

Were you aware that some councils are already warning people that they may end up falsely suspected of fraud if they do not take steps to alter their electoral register entries?

Michelanne Wilson, Electoral Commission

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Our Ref: FOI 86/09

Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act dated 21
October 2009. In your email you have made the following requests :

1) Please send me copies of all letters, briefings and any other such
materials provided to the electoral commission by the Audit Commission in
support of its campaign to be able to use the electoral register to match
against council tax Section 11(sometimes called single occupant or single
person) discounts.

2) Please also send me any materials which report discussions of this
matching by the Electoral Commission or any submissions made to Parliament
by the Electoral Commission in respect of data matching involving the
electoral register.

3) Please also send me any materials in which the question of issuing fair
processing notices to electors whose data will be matched by the
Commission for such purposes has been discussed by the Audit Commission.

4) Please also include any discussions or policy statements etc produced
by the Electoral Commission, including committee minutes that cover the
use of the electoral register by the credit reference company Experian,
which has resulted in thousands and thousands of people complaining to
their local councils all over the country, and which was judged by the
Information Commissioner to have been done in breach of the Data
Processing Act and to give rise to cause for action by innocent entitled
people who were falsely suspected of fraud as a result of that particular
data matching activity. (If there have been no such discussions, please
explain why not.)

5) Please could you tell me whether the Electoral Commission has
considered the possibility that the knowledge, provided via ironically
misleadingly named 'fair processing notices', that if a person who falls
to be disregarded for council tax purposes is on the electoral register
for an address the housholders will be
labelled as a 'high risk' fraud case by the audit commission and subjected
to a fraud investigation by local audit teams even though they are fully
entitled to the discount and have done nothing wrong will deter people
from registering to vote. (If not, why not, please?)

The Commission aims to respond to requests for information promptly and
within the statutory timeframe of twenty working days.

You may expect to receive a reply sent from the Commission by 18
November 2009.

Yours sincerely,

Nassime Chida

On behalf of Michelanne Calhoun Wilson

Legal Officer

Tel: 020 7271 0625

Fax: 020 7271 00505

[Electoral Commission request email]

show quoted sections

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

I ought to have put 'electoral commission' in point three. I apologise for this mistake.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

I ought to have said if more than one person is on the electoral register, because even if the council knows that a person falls to be disregarded, the household still gets labelled as a high risk case by the Audit Commission.

Bola Ojoye, Electoral Commission

Dear K. Hodgkinson,
Ref: FOI 86 09

I apologise for the delay in responding to your request.
We are currently evaluating the response information and should respond to
you shortly.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Yours sincerely,

Bolanle Ojoye

Bolanle Ojoye
Implementation Officer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0668
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0505
[1]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[2]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

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Dear Michel Anne Wilson,

I am sorry to say but you appear to be in breach of the law as you have not replied to this freedom of information request.

Could I add the question whether you have received any complaints or information that the Audit Commission is making unfair use of the electoral register to compile hit lists of fraud suspects for investigation by councils, lists compiled not because evidence of over or under payment has been found in each case but on broad statistical grounds that these people are worth investigating in search of fraud?

Could I also ask what materials you have on plans to notify voters that their personal data will be sent to the Audit COmmission?

I would point out that at the moment only the person who fills in the form gets any fair processing notification yet every one on the form stands a chance of being falsely suspected of fraud by the Audit Commission not just the person who fills in the form.

You might find this useful feedback for any internal consultations.

How many

Yours sincerely,

K Hodgkinson

Stuart Hardwicke CARRUTHERS left an annotation ()

Council's issue summons for about 4 million liability notices for Council Tax a year. The data matching should allow identification of acts of harrasment by Council Chief Executives(normally the s151 officer) who authorise the issue of false summons against wrongly addressed properties.

Wonder what guidance the Audit Commission have issued to District Auditors on this issue ?

Based on consumer unrest.. about false issue of liability notices it would appear that many people have a right to make claims against the Council's Electoral registration Officer, and the Council's themselves.

Doubtless, the Council's will be making significant rebates.

Daniel Knag, Electoral Commission

Dear K Hodgkinson,
Our Ref: FOI 93/09
Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act, dated 20
November 2009, in which you have requested the following:

Could I add the question whether you have received any complaints
or information that the Audit Commission is making unfair use of
the electoral register to compile hit lists of fraud suspects for
investigation by councils, lists compiled not because evidence of
over or under payment has been found in each case but on broad
statistical grounds that these people are worth investigating in
search of fraud?

Could I also ask what materials you have on plans to notify voters
that their personal data will be sent to the Audit Commission?

In your email, you referred to the lateness of any reply. On the 19 of
November, my colleague emailed an apology for this, which I will forward
to you. I'm sorry if it didn't get to you in the first instance.

The Commission aims to respond to requests for information promptly and
within the statutory timeframe of twenty working days.
You may expect to receive a reply sent from the Commission by the 18 of
December 2009.
Yours sincerely ,
Daniel Knag
On behalf of Michelanne Calhoun Wilson
Legal Officer
Tel: 020 7271 0625
Fax: 020 7271 00505
[1][Electoral Commission request email]

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[Electoral Commission request email]

Daniel Knag, Electoral Commission

In case this email did not reach you successfully yesterday, please see
the below.

Yours Sincerely
Daniel Knag
Legal and Implementation Assistant
On Behalf of Bolanle Ojoye
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0597
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0597
[1]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[2]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk
Democracy matters
Please consider the environment before printing this email.

______________________________________________
From: Bola Ojoye
Sent: 19 November 2009 15:24
To: '[FOI #21481 email]'
Subject: FOI 86 09

Dear K. Hodgkinson,
Ref: FOI 86 09

I apologise for the delay in responding to your request.
We are currently evaluating the response information and should respond to
you shortly.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Yours sincerely,

Bolanle Ojoye

Bolanle Ojoye
Implementation Officer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0668
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0505
[3]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[4]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

Democracy matters

P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

References

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3. file:///tmp/www.electoralcommission.org.uk
4. file:///tmp/www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

George Cant left an annotation ()

interesting.

I am just checking the data used by the audit commission and the councils to claim this. False accounting. to understand more about why the councils act like this, you need to understand the basic council tax figures

http://www.crazycouncil.co.uk/?page_id=493

my council NELC was part of the 11 councils included in the above study

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

My understanding is that the Audit Commission falsely believes or has believed or pretended at some point that this matching produces unambiguous matching ie prima facie evidence of lack of entitlement.

Its 'additional income' figures seem to be based on the false assumption that every victim on its hit list represents additional income.

It is not always possible to tell when this is 'creative accounting' and when it arises out of brute ignorance of council tax regulations.

Of course this is far from the truth. It would appear that the vast majority of cases on these hit lists were fully entitled to the same discount (25%) all the time.

Therefore, the additional income figures grossly overstate the problem and the outcome.

Bizarrely some councils to comply with Audit Commission requirements send out so=called 'adjusted' demand notices which remove the discount and put it back in one and the same notice. It appears that these cases count as 'cancelled' discounts and go into the success figures on that basis.

My point here is that the right to vote is a human right and that when one ends up on an NFI hit list just because one has quite properly listed a 17 year old or other disregarded adult to vote, despite the fact that you have fully complied with all your duties towards the council, this represents a serious inteference with the franchise.

We know of people who refuse to put student children away at uni on the home electoral register because they have had what are with no intentional irony called 'fair processing notices' making it obvious that if they make this error they will end up classified electronically by the Audit Commission and their puppets in local government as 'high risk' matches in fraud investigations.

Two cheer for democracy? No cheers at all if this is what they will be doing with your election information.

The Audit Commission itself would appear effectively to be unaccountable.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

Stuart

One problem with incorrect council tax demand notices is that if you get your discount cancelled because the council is obeying Audit Commission accounts of the basis of the discount and administering it on that basis, instead of on the basis of the law, this is maladministration, but you can only act against this via a judicial review or some such expensive and arcane procedure.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

What is really needed is some sort of grass roots advice and aid lobby for people on the receiving end of council tax errors, including unlawful bills sent to false positives on NFI hit lists and so on.

The CAB is worse than useless, elected councillors have little input, and even trained revenue service staff with IRRV qualifications cannot talk sense into Audit Teams run by the NFI.

This will affect thousands of people, it seems several thousand get investigated per council as a result of NFI hit lists, with roughly one fraud being found at the end of the day. There are going to be a lot of resentful people.

The NFI is supposed to have regard to a statutory code of data matching practice, but it doesn't seem to like it or regard it as being compulsory despite it having been laid before Parliament.

And here is the law on this discount, to avoid any arguments to the contrary and to prove that no discount is ever lawfully made on the basis that a person is living alone etc etc:

(2)
Regulations under this Schedule may include provision that, before making any calculation of the chargeable amount for the purposes of regulations under this Schedule, the authority shall take reasonable steps to ascertain whether that amount is subject to any discount, and if so, the amount of that discount. .
(3)
The regulations may include provision that— .
(a)
where (having taken such steps) the authority has no reason to believe that the chargeable amount is subject to a discount, it shall assume, in making any calculation of the chargeable amount for the purposes of regulations under this Schedule, that the chargeable amount is not subject to any discount; and .
(b)
where (having taken such steps) the authority has reason to believe that the chargeable amount is subject to a discount of a particular amount, it shall assume, in making any such calculation, that the chargeable amount is subject to a discount of that amount. .
(4)
The regulations may include provision that the authority must inform the person who is or will be liable to pay the chargeable amount of that assumption. .
(5)
The regulations may include provision that where— .
(a)
in accordance with any provision included under sub-paragraph (4) above the authority informs the person concerned that it has assumed that the chargeable amount is subject to a discount of a particular amount; and .
(b)
at any time before the end of the financial year following the financial year concerned, the person has reason to believe that the chargeable amount is not in fact subject to any discount, or is subject to a discount of a smaller amount, .
the person shall, within such period as may be prescribed, notify the authority of his belief.

Nassime Chida, Electoral Commission

Dear Mr Hodgkinson,

Please accept the Commission's apologies for the delay in responding to
your request. Having evaluated the information we hold we are currently
considering the public interest test under sections 35 and 42 of the Act.
We are also consulting our external stakeholders regarding the documents
we hold.

With all best wishes,

Nassime Chida
Nassime Chida
Business Assistant - DCE
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0692
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0579
[1]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[2]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

Democracy matters

P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

______________________________________________
From: Bola Ojoye
Sent: 19 November 2009 15:24
To: '[FOI #21481 email]'
Subject: FOI 86 09

Dear K. Hodgkinson,
Ref: FOI 86 09

I apologise for the delay in responding to your request.
We are currently evaluating the response information and should respond to
you shortly.
Sorry for the inconvenience.
Yours sincerely,

Bolanle Ojoye

Bolanle Ojoye
Implementation Officer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0668
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0505
[3]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[4]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

Democracy matters

P Please consider the environment before printing this email.

References

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4. file:///tmp/www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

I wonder whether I could request a list of 'external stakeholders' and ask for documentary background information on this category of person/body.

I cannot understand why 'external stakeholders' should have any say over information you hold. As the saying goes, the 'innocent' have nothing to hide!!!!

If by External Stakeholders you mean the electoral register or electoral registration officers or some other body, it would be helpful to know this.

Thank you.

Thank you.

George Cant left an annotation ()

Hi there

Am on the same thing. and it looks like false accounting.

http://www.crazycouncil.co.uk/?p=568 a copy of the figures. I am in the process of verifying them with each council.

do you fancy helping ?

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

George

In respect of 'false accounting', I think it may be that the more 'investigations' a council does the better its figures look. I think the Audit Commission has set up a system where in effect it pays councils to suspect and investigate honest entitled people as it then appears to meet its targets in terms of investigations. The Audit Commission helpfully labels thousands of innocent people as 'high risk' cases to narrow the field of suspects down. This is grotesquely unfair and a flagrant breach of the Audit Commission's own Code of Data Matching Practice.

The figures I dispute are NFI estimates of income lost. They appear to be based on a false if not positively dishonest argument that every case on the hit lists represents additional income, when in fact the vast majority of victims are fully entitled and are being besmirched systematically as a result of NFI publications which inaccurately represent the law.

The NFI admits to itself that its publications inaccurately reflect the law but declines to repeat this in public.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

George

Thank you for that link. I guessed that the NFI's figures were guess work. The use of the term 'high risk' confirms that my complaints to the Audit Commission are valid. They keep pretending that this is unambiguous matching when it is not. Protecting the Public Purse is pure guesswork. The account of the law in that document is flagrantly unfair and incorrect. If individuals were named it would be libellous. They smear innocent people without naming them freely knowing they can get away with it. What sort of country are they trying to create? The NFI is more like a STASI or a witchfinder, pointing its bony fingers at thousands of innocent entitled people, and it is supposed to be auditors. Moreover, the use of such terms as 'incorrectly claimed' and 'incorrectly awarded' reflects not actual incorrect claims and incorrect awards but perfectly legal and properly claimed and awarded discounts. The incorrectness here is in the incompetent interpretation being put on the data set cells by the NFI. It stupidly, in my opinion, equates these cells with the basis of the discount, claims made by taxpayers and all sort of other spurious things, none of which are fair.

The figures they give are as you have seen grossly exagerated. But they do give an idea of the numbers of innnocent entitled people listed as high risk frauds.

One problem here is that if you are tagged on your personal data as a high risk fraud, they do not have to tell you this if it might enable you to avoid detection. This appears to underlie a lot of their evasion and dishonesty.

But we all got sent fair processing notices from which we could work out that what was being done to our data was not fair.

My understanding is that there will be petitions soon on this. In the meantime you can write yourself to the ICO and the Audit Commission complaining that this use of personal data to categorise people as 'high risk' frauds is a flagrant breach of the statutory code of data matching practice laid before Parliament, a gross abuse of information provided for the purposes of the democratic franchise and so far from being necessary in a democracy is blatantly anti democratic and a disincentive to honest decent people to vote.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

The figures are incorrect.

Lancaster is listed as achieving additional income of £238,000.

The committee minutes for Lancaster are on line. The actual additional income generated was £6,000.

I do not know how Mr Elliot got his figures but this table is clearly gibberish. If all the figures in Protecting the public purse are as much gibberish as this then they will be overestimating fraud by a factor of hundreds of percents.

And the Information Commissioner said Lancaster's exercise was probably illegal. The biggest mistake Lancaster made was suspecting someone who worked on the local paper of fraud. It made angry headlines across the region for some weeks.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

The Audit Commission routinely published figures that are rubbish and legally inaccurate accounts of council tax law. Not just its figures for income but its figures for 'cancelled discounts' are wrong and this is because it thinks there is a sole occupant discount which has to be 'cancelled' if a person is entitled to the discount on the basis of disregards.

Lancaster in fact sent out adjusted demand notices for the same amount. This bizarre and unlawful activity appears to reflect some false belief that the discount is residence based, which in fact Lancaster IRRV qualified staff will fully admit, if you press them, is totally incorrect.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

Here is a case study.

It shows that the electoral register is being used to assess entitlement to a council tax discount in order to save money on administration. This is most certainly not necessary to prevent and detect crime. So none of the exemptions appear to apply to it.

http://publicsector.experian.co.uk/Effic...

They 'affirm' a discount by counting heads. Unfortunately this discount is not residence based so it doesn't work. Moreover, affirming entitlement to discount is not a purpose for which the Electoral Register may lawfully be used, and this too should stop.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

The full register lists everyone who is entitled to vote. You can check it by calling at the council offices or at some local libraries. Only certain people and organisations can have copies of the full register, and they can only use it for specified purposes. These include electoral purposes, the prevention and detection of crime and checking your identity when you have applied for credit. The law says who can have a copy of the full register and what they can use it for. The full list of such persons and purposes is given in the Representation of the People (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2002. It is a criminal offence for them to pass it on to anyone else or to use it for any other purpose.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

“By any measure, this
exercise has been a great
success for Lancaster
City Council. Being able
to reduce the number of
letters down from 20,000
to 5,000 has removed
a huge administrative
burden from the authority,
in addition to making
significant cost savings.
We are delighted that so
many invalid claims have
been removed as this will
substantially increase
the amount of council tax
collected. This money
will be ploughed back
into public services to the
benefit of the community
as a whole and will help to
keep council tax down for
future years.”
Richard Mason
Head of Revenue Services at
Lancaster City Council

However, large numbers of the innocent, entitled people Mr Mason and his team falsely suspected of fraud and threatened with unlawful demand notices for money they did not owe were not particularly happy about it.

George Cant left an annotation ()

Hi kay

your correct, lets put our heads together.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

Of course, when councils decline to issue canvass forms this results in even more innocent entitled people ending up on NFI hit lists, labelled as high risk criminals, and again through the unfair and undemocratic misuse of personal information from the electoral register.

True credit reference companies use it to check whether you live at an address when you apply for credit. Even this throws up 'false positives' but in that case you only get declined credit. You can then go and register to vote at your new address in order to get credit.

In the case of the NFI hit lists, you are already receiving a discount in a situation where lack of entitlement would be strong evidence of fraud. However, the electoral register cannot decide entitlement as not everybody on the electoral register counts as 'living' at an address for council tax purposes, you can lawfully be on the electoral register at two addresses and so on.

It appears that at some point the NFI falsely believed that this was unambiguous matching and that it issued figures for additional income identified on that basis, estimates which appear to be out by a factor ranging from three upwards. The NFI did not realise and appears not to have bothered to find out how many of the people on its hit lists were entitled all the time.

Here is a very good report on the accusatory and threatening approaches to these poor people taken by councils. Councils claim that the NFI provides model threatening letters; whether this is true only the NFI can say.

http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=...

I quote from this report, one of the few honest and full ones available:

The purpose of this project was to identify cases where a person is claiming a Single
Person Discount (SPD) (a 25% discount on their annual Council Tax bill) but the
Electoral Register shows more than one adult voter at the property.

One complication of this exercise is that people can quite properly receive an SPD yet have more than one adult occupier.

Elmbridge has approximately 16,700 SPD cases. There were initially 939 mismatches.

These required individual personal investigation. To facilitate this huge task, Local Taxation/ISD devised a computer program to filter out certain types of inappropriate records such as accounts or discounts that had subsequently ceased (often differences
due to the time gap between the two extracts or the 5 to 6 months the NFI took to make the information available to us).

Less than 1% of the discounts turned out to be wrong. However the NFI would have estimated a far higher number because it works on the basis of 'hits', which in this case included nearly one thousand people and their associated housemate/children (several people get falsely suspected per hit, of course).

670 people were treated as criminals and required to prove their innocence on pain of an adjusted demand notice for money they did not owe, in breach, it must be said of the regulations stipulating the circumstances in which such bills may lawfully be sent.

So you can double that in terms of falsely suspected people, all because in a supposedly free and fair society they had been registered to vote, we are talking of well over a thousand just in one small area.

This is insulting, degrading and fundamentally unfair.

It also shows how totally meaningless Codes of Data Matching Practice pretending that each match shows an inconsistency is. Supposed to protect the rights of the innocent they do no such thing. And as for no assumption of guilt, even failing to reply to an accusative and threatening letter is seen as enough 'investigation' to merit cancelling the discount. No assumption of guilt until there has been 'an investigation'? It is clear that assumptions are being made even when the investigation has found neither evidence of false statement, lack of entitlement or failure to report material changes of circumstances. Unfair 'assumptions' and prejudice are the whole basis for this 'risk based' labelling.

Two cheers for democracy.

Michelanne Wilson, Electoral Commission

3 Attachments

Note: This is email 1 of 2. The attachments for question 3 are too large
to send in one email so I will send the documents seperately.

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Our Ref: FOI 86/09 and 93 09

Thank you for your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI
Act) dated 21 October 2009.

We apologise for the delay in responding to your request. Please see your
request in bold below followed by our response.

1) Please send me copies of all letters, briefings and any other such
materials provided to the Electoral Commission by the Audit Commission in
support of its campaign to be able to use the electoral register to match
against council tax Section 11(sometimes called single occupant or single
person) discounts.

The Commission does hold some information relevant to your request. Please
see a link to the Audit Commission's code of data matching practice which
was provided to the Electoral Commission for comment. Please also see
attached an email discussion relating to the code of data matching
document.

[1]http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/SiteC...

Some of the information the Commission holds is exempt from disclosure.
Information that is privileged under legal professional privilege is
exempt under section 42 of the FOI Act.

This exemption is subject to the public interest test. There is a strong
public interest in maintaining this exemption as legal professional
privilege is essential to the administration of justice. The information
you request relates to legal advice between in-house counsel and the
Electoral Commission and also copies of external stakeholder's legal
advice. It is in the public interest to safeguard the confidential nature
of this so as to allow openness in all communications between client and
lawyer to ensure access to full and frank legal advice. Therefore, having
considered the public interest test, the Commission feels it would be
inappropriate to disclose the information.

Please note:

* We have made redactions to the documents to comply with the Data
Protection Act 1998 as it contains personal information as defined
under the Act. We have also redacted information not relevant to the
request.

2) Please include any materials in which it is asserted (albeit falsely)
that this data match indicates that people are not entitled to the
discount that has been deducted from their council tax bill or that it
will be used for the sole purpose of identifying 'potential frauds'.

We do not hold any material in which such a statement is made.

3) Please also send me any materials which report discussions of this
matching by the Electoral Commission or any submissions made to Parliament
by the Electoral Commission in respect of data matching involving the
electoral register.

Please see the documents that we hold which report discussions by the
Electoral Commission.

We have interpreted `discussions' to mean communications between
Commission staff and stakeholders in respect of this data matching. We
have not included responses to local authorities who have requested advice
about this data matching as this falls outside the scope of your request.

Some of the information we hold is subject to legal professional privilege
and is therefore exempt under s42 of the FOI Act for the same reasons as
mentioned in the response to question 1.

(documents to follow)

The Electoral Commission has made the following submissions to Parliament
in respect of data matching involving the electoral register:

a. Submission by the Electoral Commission to ODPM select committee on
voter registration, 2004:
[2]http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa...
b. Briefing on Report Stage of the Political Parties and Elections Bill,
2009:
[3]http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__...
c. Briefing on Lords Grand Committee Stage of the Political Parties and
Elections Bill, 2009:
[4]http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__...

4) Please also send me any materials in which the question of issuing fair
processing notices to electors whose data will be matched by the
Commission for such purposes has been discussed by the Audit Commission.

We do not hold any material in which this question has been discussed by
the Audit Commission. You may wish to refer this part of your request to
the Audit Commission or alternatively the Information Commissioner's
Office. You can do so at
[5]http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/about...
or [6]http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/freedom....

5) Please also include any discussions or policy statements etc produced
by the Electoral Commission, including committee minutes that cover the
use of the electoral register by the credit reference company Experian,
which has resulted in thousands and thousands of people complaining to
their local councils all over the country, and which was judged by the
Information Commissioner to have been done in breach of the Data
Processing Act and to give rise to cause for action by innocent entitled
people who were falsely suspected of fraud as a result of that particular
data matching activity. (If there have been no such discussions, please
explain why not.)

Please see attached documents we hold relevant to your request. Please
also see attached an explanatory note provided by Experian which relates
to Experian's processing of the electoral register.

6) Please could you tell me whether the Electoral Commission has
considered the possibility that the knowledge, provided via ironically
misleadingly named 'fair processing notices', that if a person who falls
to be disregarded for council tax purposes is on the electoral register
for an address the householders will be
labelled as a 'high risk' fraud case by the Audit Commission and subjected
to a fraud investigation by local audit teams even though they are fully
entitled to the discount and have done nothing wrong will deter people
from registering to vote. (If not, why not, please?)

The Electoral Commission has no evidence to suggest that the circumstances
described in the request would deter people from registering to vote.

You subsequently made an additional request for information on 20 November
2009. Please see your request in bold followed by our response.

7) Could I add the question whether you have received any complaints or
information that the Audit Commission is making unfair use of the
electoral register to compile hit lists of fraud suspects for
investigation by councils, lists compiled not because evidence of over or
under payment has been found in each case but on broad statistical grounds
that these people are worth investigating in search of fraud?
The Commission has received both complaints and queries regarding the
Audit Commission and its use of the electoral register.
8) Could I also ask what materials you have on plans to notify voters that
their personal data will be sent to the Audit Commission?
Please see the link to a leaflet on our website that provides information
about the electoral register and the use of personal data. Although the
leaflet does not address the Audit Commission specifically, the leaflet
does give a summary of who can access data provided on the electoral
register and what it can be used for.
[7]http://www.dopolitics.org.uk/toolbox-ind...

I trust that this information satisfies your request. If you are not
satisfied with this response, please note that the Commission operates a
review procedure, details of which can be found on the Commission website
at:
[8]http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/ab....

Please also note that if you have exhausted all internal Commission review
procedures and you are still not satisfied you have the right to appeal to
the Information Commissioner. Details of this procedure can be found on
the ICO website: [9]http://www.ico.gov.uk

Yours sincerely,

Bolanle

Bolanle Ojoye
Implementation Officer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0668
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0505
[10]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[11]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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Michelanne Wilson, Electoral Commission

1 Attachment

Email 3

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Our Ref: FOI 86/09 and 93 09

Please see the second part of the document relevant to question 3 of your
request.

Yours sincerely,

Bolanle

Bolanle Ojoye
Implementation Officer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0668
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0505
[1]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[2]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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Michelanne Wilson, Electoral Commission

1 Attachment

Email 2

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Our Ref: FOI 86/09 and 93 09

Please see the documents relevant to question 3 of your request.

The document is too large to send in one email so I have split the
document in two. You will receive another email shortly with the second
part of the document.

Yours sincerely,

Bolanle

Bolanle Ojoye
Implementation Officer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0668
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0505
[1]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[2]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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Dear Michelanne Wilson,

Thank you very much for this information.

I am not clear whether you have sent me all the information as you promised two sets of data in different messages, but I only have one message to date. Have you now sent me everything.

The information you have sent is very interesting and I would like to thank you for it. I do honestly believe that since the new powers have been given to the Audit Commission which, it claims, clarify its powers to get the full register, the situation has been changed somewhat and needs a fresh look.

From the information here it seems that there has been a lack of clarity about how Audit Commission activities would actually work. However, you do not seem to have information about this. I believe that I can clarify.

Council tax data banks are now kept electronically. The Audit Commission has devised a set of data which it claims councils ought to have and to keep up to date. It then claims to have found a match if a person on the electoral register is not in council tax data bases. These matches have to be investigated, and 'innocent' households have to prove that they are innocent. Typically the investigations are euphemistically entitled 'reviews', though those subject to investigations are routinely threatened that if they do not co-operate this will result in their discount being cancelled, often on a backdated basis. This would only be legal if it had proved that there was lack of entitlement. As your documents make clear, the electoral register includes 'nominal' residents as well as residents who count for council tax purposes. People have to prove that this is the case, otherwise council tax officers tend to assume that each person on the electoral register does count and to issue backdated bills on that basis. There is a right of appeal, but given that this is a criminal investigation the civil tribunal system is hardly the appropriate place for the matter to be tried. Failure to respond to 'review' letters is apparently seen as unreasonable by the Audit Commission and its local government allies, which include audit departments which are often set up so as to lack local democratic management and control and which do what the Audit Commission tells them. Some investigators appear to believe that this match does provide prima facie evidence of lack of entitlement, when it clearly does not.

But even actual, as opposed to 'nominal' residents may 'fall to be disregarded'. The information I have had does not seem to make this clear.

You need to realise that there is no such thing as a single person discount as this term is commonly misunderstood. Nobody gets a 25% discount simply because they live alone. Some sole residents get a bigger discount. The presence of a second adult or an adult not on council tax data bases is not prima facie evidence of lack of entitlement or false statement or the withholding of information that ought to have been provided. This is not 'data matching' as defined in the Audit Commission Code of Data Matching and the fair processing notices contained therein. A match between these two data sets does not indicate that there is an inconsistency. It is clear that the Electoral Commission does realise this, but not clear from what you have sent me that it fully realises all the factors that lead to abortive fraud investigations. 'Notional' residents are just one source of false positives.

I have to advise you that most AC publications falsely represent this as an investigation into people who are claiming to live alone. This gives the unfair impression that any additional adult is evidence of a lie, and lying is taken to be reasonable grounds for suspecting fraudulent intent. However, of course, this match is not evidence of a lie. Any claims or statements made by residents pre date the electoral register. Councils do not have to collect the data the Audit Commission expects them to have and cannot afford to make the attempt even every other year.

To put it briefly, there is much unfair interpretation of a) council tax data bases and b) the output of the matching exercises.

It is clear, though, that false positives are therefore built into the system. Honest people who fill in electoral registration forms end up on NFI 'hit lists' and suspected of fraud on a 'high risk' categorisation as a result. It would appear that the vast majority of cases listed as 'high risk' by the AC are in fact wholly innocent and fully entitled. The thing works on a statistical basis not an evidential one.

It is clear from F o I requests on this system that councils do not keep detailed information on investigations or supply the Audit Commission with it. The figures given by councils in terms of additional income do not match those given by the Audit Commission.

Where councils do have and publish information it appears that the majority of false positives involve young people in full time education/training. In fact, government policies on education would appear likely to account for much of the increase in applications for the discount that allegedly exists.

The electoral register is personal information, and it has been traditionally stated that this should only be divulged on a case by case basis when there is strong reason to suspect an individual of fraud.

The NFI is divulging it when there is no case by case evidence, but when it believes that some people on the lists may be committing fraud. You narrow down the set by eliminating innocent people.

This is a nightmare for those innocent people on the hit lists and a disincentive to register to vote. Rather, one might argue, get a fine for that than be labelled as a 'high risk' fraud case with all the life changing potential of such a classification.

You are unlikely, in my view, to get clarification from the Audit Commission, then, as it does not obtain clear information about the effects of this exercise, including the numbers of false positives/abortive cases and the causes of these needless investigations.

Moreover, better informed council staff, including some with IRRV qualifications, firmly believe that the Audit Commission has not fully grasped council tax law and the actual 'basis' of the discount. Incorrect interpretations of the significance of council tax data base cells - which do not reflect the 'basis' on which the discount was awarded - appear to be contributing to unfair interpretations of the output of Commission matching exercises.

I would suggest that you might usefully approach council tax experts including the IRRV for full accounts of the legislation governing the assessment and deduction of this discount. It would appear that sources other than the Audit Commission may be more reliable and objective. Audit Commission publications are not accurate and reliable sources of information on this topic. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that the Audit Commission is deliberately attempting to get public opinion on its side. Underplaying the negative effects in terms of abortive investigations and unfair categorisation of discount recipients would be one obvious tactic. Clear and accurate information does not often provide the most effective PR material.

Yours sincerely,

K Hodgkinson

Michelanne Wilson, Electoral Commission

I am currently out of the office. I will be back in the office on Monday, 4 January. In my absence, my inbox will be check for FOI queries only. If you have a query relating to FOI please contact Bola Ojoye [email address] or Elizabeth Morrow [email address]. Any legal queries may be addressed to Louise Footner [email address] or Elizabeth Morrow [email address]

Rosie Sidey, Electoral Commission

3 Attachments

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Please see below email 1 of the Commission's response to FOI 86/09 and
93/09.

Kind Regards,

Rosie Sidey
Lawyer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0547
Fax: 020 7271 0505
[1]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[2]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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show quoted sections

Rosie Sidey, Electoral Commission

Dear Mr Hodgkinson,

I refer to your below email of 28 December 2009 and advise that I am
responding on behalf of Michelanne Wilson who is currently on leave.

From your email it appears that you may not have received the entirety of
the Commission's response to your requests under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 (the Act), namely our response to your requests FOI
86/09 and FOI 93/09. I apologise for any confusion about the Commission's
full response and would like to confirm that the relevant information was
dispatched to you by way of three separate emails which were sent as
follows:

Email 1: Mon 21/12/2009 at 15:03

Email 2: Mon 21/12/2009 at 15:15; and

Email 3: Mon 21/12/2009 at 15:16.

I will now re-send each of the above emails to you and in order to ensure
that you have received all of this information I would be grateful if you
could confirm receipt of these emails.

Review

We hope that the information contained in the entirety of the Commission's
response to your requests FOI 86/09 and FOI 93/09 satisfies your request.
If you are not satisfied you may wish to seek review of the Commission's
decision by way of our internal review procedure. Please see the following
link for details of the review procedure via the Commission's website:
[1]http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/ab....

Please also note that if you have exhausted all internal Commission review
procedures and you are still not satisfied you have the right to appeal to
the Information Commissioner. Details of this procedure can be found on
the ICO website: [2]http://www.ico.gov.uk

Feedback and complaints

The Commission welcomes feedback about our performance and service
delivery and we thank you for your comments in your email to Ms Wilson of
28 December 2009 (attached out below). We regard feedback and complaints
as an important way of helping us to achieve higher standards.

If you have a complaint about the way in which the Commission has acted in
the exercise of our statutory duties you may wish to make a complaint by
way of our complaints procedure. Details of this procedure including how
to make a complaint are set out below.

However, please note that if you have a complaint about the way in which
the Audit Commission performs its statutory functions then you should
raise this with the Audit Commission directly.

The Commission's complaints procedure

What is a complaint?

A complaint is a comment about the way we acted in the exercise of our
statutory duties. It expresses dissatisfaction with the service and
suggests alternative actions or ideas on how we could provide a better
service to our stakeholders. For example, a complaint might be made about:
a failure or delay in dealing with a matter; bias or unfairness; a
discrimination or discourtesy; a failure to follow proper procedures; or a
mistake made in carrying out our functions.

This complaint procedure can also be used where a person who has made a
request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is
dissatisfied with our response to their request.

We may also receive complaints about other people or organisations, as
part of our statutory regulation of political parties or elections. These
complaints are dealt with under a separate Party and Election Finance team
complaints process. Likewise, complaints which relate to electoral reviews
will be handled by the electoral review procedure.

How can I make a complaint?

You can make a complaint in writing or by email using the contact details
listed below.

You will be required to give your name and address; anonymous complaints
will be kept on file but they will not be investigated.

You need to set out the circumstances and the nature of your complaint.
For your assistance we can provide a form, however you are not required to
use it. The form does, however, list the information which we need in
order to investigate your complaint properly.

You should direct all your written complaints to the Head of Strategy and
Secretary to the Commission, who will liaise with the Director/Head of the
section or department you are making the complaint about. The Head of
Strategy and Secretary to the Commission will then coordinate any
responses to the complaint and will write to you after the matter has been
investigated.

Contact details:

Kairen Zonena
Committees Manager
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
30 Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW

Email: [email address]

How will we deal with your complaint?

We will try to resolve your complaint immediately. If we are unable to do
this, the Head of Strategy and Secretary to the Commission will send you
an acknowledgement letter. We will make every effort to send a detailed
reply within 20 working days. Where this is not possible, you will receive
a letter explaining why, and giving a date by which you will receive a
detailed reply.

How will complaints be investigated?

In the first instance, your actual complaint will be investigated by the
Director/Head of the relevant section or department. All complaints will
be thoroughly and fairly investigated. If you feel that your complaint
should be investigated in confidence, you need to make this clear when
making your initial complaint to the Head of Strategy and Secretary to the
Commission and give your reasons. In such cases, we will not divulge your
name without your prior approval.

What if I am not satisfied with the response?

You may ask for your complaint to go to the next stage, which is
consideration by the Chief Executive of the Commission, or in the case of
a complaint about the Boundary Committee, by the Chair of the Boundary
Committee.

If, after the second stage, you are still dissatisfied with the response,
you may ask for the matter to be referred to the Chair of the Electoral
Commission for a final decision.

At each stage, we will try to deal with the complaint and send a detailed
response within 20 working days. Where this is not possible, you will
receive a letter explaining why, and giving a date by which you will
receive a detailed reply.

You are also entitled to complain to the Parliamentary Commissioner for
Administration, often known as the Parliamentary Ombudsman. However, the
Parliamentary Ombudsman can only consider complaints which are referred by
a Member of Parliament, so you will need to contact your MP. You should
bear in mind that the Ombudsman will normally expect you to have gone
through our complaints procedure first.

The address of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is:

Millbank Tower
Millbank
London SW1P 4QP

The Ombudsman's telephone number is 020 7217 4163 or 0845 015 4033

Information can also be found on the Parliamentary Ombudsman's website.

Yours sincerely,

Rosie Sidey
Lawyer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0547
Fax: 020 7271 0505
[3]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[4]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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show quoted sections

Rosie Sidey, Electoral Commission

1 Attachment

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Please see below Email 2 of the Commission's response to FOI 86/09 and
93/09.

Kind Regards,

Rosie Sidey
Lawyer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0547
Fax: 020 7271 0505
[1]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[2]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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______________________________________________
From: Bola Ojoye On Behalf Of Michelanne Wilson
Sent: 21 December 2009 15:15
To: '[FOI #21481 email]'
Subject: FOI response 86/09 and 93/09

Email 2

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Our Ref: FOI 86/09 and 93 09

Please see the documents relevant to question 3 of your request.

The document is too large to send in one email so I have split the
document in two. You will receive another email shortly with the second
part of the document.

Yours sincerely,

Bolanle

Bolanle Ojoye
Implementation Officer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0668
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0505
[3]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[4]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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Rosie Sidey, Electoral Commission

1 Attachment

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Please see below Email 3 of the Commission's response to FOI 86/09 and
93/09.

Kind Regards,

Rosie Sidey
Lawyer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0547
Fax: 020 7271 0505
[1]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[2]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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______________________________________________
From: Bola Ojoye On Behalf Of Michelanne Wilson
Sent: 21 December 2009 15:16
To: '[FOI #21481 email]'
Subject: FOI response 86/09 and 93/09

Email 3

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Our Ref: FOI 86/09 and 93 09

Please see the second part of the document relevant to question 3 of your
request.

Yours sincerely,

Bolanle

Bolanle Ojoye
Implementation Officer
The Electoral Commission
Trevelyan House
Great Peter Street
London SW1P 2HW
Tel: 020 7271 0668
Fax: 020 7271 0505
Textphone: 18001 020 7271 0505
[3]www.electoralcommission.org.uk
[4]www.aboutmyvote.co.uk

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K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

I am very grateful to the Electoral Commission for this information.

There is still some lack of clarity. For example, it is not clear whether the Electoral Commission fully understands what is being done with data, even though it appears that a meeting was held with Peter Yetzes of the NFI. It would be interesting to know precisely what Mr Yetzes said at that meeting and whether a full account of this match and the subsequent investigations in search of anomalies was provided to those attending. It would appear to be NFI policy to be economical with the truth in this area.

After reading through this data I discover that once again the false idea that this matching reveals 'anomalies' is advanced. This match does not reveal anomalies. The vast majority of people on the NFI hit lists sent out after the matching are completely decent honest households where there is full entitlement to the 25% discount.

The attractive but wrong idea is expressed in a letter from the Home Office. Ironically, the Home Office declined a F of I request on this site about this matching exercise on the grounds that it was a matter for the Dept of Communities.

A letter from the Home Office to the Electoral Commission states:

The purpose of this match has been to identify anomalies that could be indicative of 'single person discount' fraud. This is where an individual claims single person discount but there have actually been other non-dependent adults living at the same premises, as evident from the electoral register.

This information is highly misleading and unfair. One has to ask where the Home Office got this false idea.

As other participants in discussions with the EC appear to have been aware, the electoral register includes 'nominal residents' who do not count for council tax purposes. This is just one reason why this match itself does not throw up 'anomalies' but throws up false positives/abortive cases in very large numbers.

Worse, though there have been public outcries about this sort of unfair use of the electoral register, nobody appears to have consulted any of the voters who have been the victims of this appalling mess. Their voices are ignored or silenced.

The information disclosed shows that there has been lack of clarity about how this exercise works. The M o J give an account, but a very misleading one.

First the electoral register does not show that a person is non dependent. This is an irrelevant and unhelpful piece of embroidery.

It is true that over and over again NFI data matching is stated to show anomalies, but this match does not show anomalies. I realise that many NFI publications give the impression that it does, but this is not true. NFI publications routinely provide inaccurate, incomplete accounts of council tax regulations.

How this exercise works is that lists of people who must be actively investigated in search of fraud even though NO ANOMALY AT ALL HAS BEEN DISCOVERED.

Put simply, 'hit lists' of people whom it might be worth investigating IN SEARCH OF ANOMALIES are devised using the electoral register. Such investigations involve labelling everybody on the hit lists as 'high risk' cases.

The only valid argument that the AC could advance that this is within auditors' powers would be along the following lines:

It is known that some people pretend to live alone in order to claim a 25% discount. A list of all SPD claimants who have in some time in the past stated that they were the only adult resident is matched against electoral registers compiled at the least some months after council tax bills are issued and in some cases years after the initial declaration. All houses where more than one adult appear on the register are listed as 'matches'. Many and in some cases most of those households will be wholly innocent of any wrong doing. However councils are expected actively to investigate the people on the list in search of fraud.
This is usually done by sending out investigation letters which in effect make people prove that they are innocent ie prove that anybody on the electoral register either does not count for council tax purposes or that they are only 'nominal residents'. They are required to do this despite the fact that there is no actual evidence.

This is grossly unfair.

If the Home Office wishes to justify this matching, then it ought to do it in terms of the actual processes and not on the basis of a prejudicial and unfair account of council tax law. It most certainly should not be providing to other bodies inaccurate and unfair accounts of what is being done with data.

K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

It appears that at some time the Audit Commission incorrectly briefed a barrister to the effect that a comparison of electoral register information and council tax data sets appears to provide prima facie evidence that people are not entitled to a 25% discount. This is not true, as the Electoral Commission appears to have understood. This false assertion appears to be at the heart of the problem.

The hit lists drawn up by the NFI as a result of this matching are not lists of people where there is or appears to be prima facie evidence of lack of entitlement.

The hit lists drawn up by the NFI are not lists of people who are pretending or claiming to live on their own.

They are not lists of households where a discount has been deducted 'on the basis' that only one adult is resident.

The presence of more than one adult in a household where a 25% discount has been deducted is not an anomaly.

This matching is not based on suspicious evidence in each case but on the basis of prior assumptions that some people will be fraudulent and that these lists will contain some such people and that the privacy of everybody on these lists must be abandoned while council audit teams and other staff, some of whom clearly fail to understand that these people have not done anything wrong, send them threatening investigation letters causing much distress in the process.

The fact that even the Home Office - which reallty ought to know better - has got this totally wrong just shows how important it is that people like the Audit Commission and its Board take the idea of 'fair processing notification' seriously, instead of undertaking PR campaigns in which the basis of the discount is routinely misrepresented, most notably in documents like 'Protecting the Public Purse'.

I note that not one of the documents provided to me here refers to the regulations on council tax discounts, which are crucial to the whole issue.

http://www.england-legislation.hmso.gov....

http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.asp...

http://www.england-legislation.hmso.gov....

Let me explain briefly:

Evey year councils must ascertain before sending out any bills whether any discount should be deducted from any of the bills. Bills are sent out in advance. They are sent out before anybody knows for sure whether the household will qualify for a discount. Entitlement goes on a daily basis. To deal with this unknown factor, the law clearly tells councils not once but twice to issue the bill on the assumption that the same amount and rate of discount will apply for the whole of the year. The law also states that the liable tax payer who has had a 25% discount must inform the council if during the year entitlement to that amount or rate of discount changes. Tax bills are sent out before the tax year starts in April. The electoral register is drawn up in December.

The fact that somebody on the electoral register in December is not on council tax data sets used the April before does not mean that entitlement has changed. It most certainly does not provide prima facie evidence of lack of entitlement. Any auditor who made this comparison and then said there is prima facie evidence that Mr Bloggs is not entitled to the discount he is claiming would leave himself wide open.

No amount of 'prior notification' can make such labelling of Mr Bloggs on NFI hit lists or subsequent threats to cancel Mr Bloggs' discount if he declines to eliminate himself from a fraud investigation can make this use of data 'fair' or stop it causing distress to Mr Bloggs.

And just how many Mr Bloggs has the Audit Commission and its pilots falsely labelled? It is clear from some responses here on this site that at least one pilot council could not care less and does not keep records, being, as it says, uninterested in people who are entitled. Nice (not).

And just how much money has the Audit Commission got in because of this? The Audit Commission's response to Mr Cants'F o I request on this shows that it is basically guessing. It doesn't actually know.

Nobody should be on an NFI hit list and subjected to a fraud investigation, even one disguised as a 'review' simply because in all honesty they fill in a form entitling them to vote in a supposedly free and democractic society. it makes a mockery of the word 'democracy'.

Dear Rosie Sidey,

Please could you explain to Louise Footner and to any one else who has been involved in these discussions that there is no amomaly or discrepancy or irregularity if more than one person is on the electoral register when the council 'has the property registered' as being in single occupancy. Ref email sent by Louise on February 23rd 2007.

This refers to the 25% discount set out in the Local Government Finance Act. Entitlement to this discount is not limited to situations where the property has single occupancy. The name 'single person' discount is misleading. So are many accounts of this discount available on line. Ironically, if councils obeyed the council tax discount demand notice regulations, which some of them do not obey, nobody would be confused about this. These regulations state that every time councils send out council tax bills to any address they must explain the full range of situations in which the 25% discount applies. So long as entitlement continues for the rest of the year the taxpayer has no need or duty under civil or criminal law to inform the council if it has incorrectly 'registered' (to use Ms Footner's term)the property as single occupancy).

A moment's thought shows that when council issue council tax bills, prior to the start of each tax year in April, they cannot know who will be living in each house during the next 12 months. Council tax law deals with this situation in the following way. Before making any calculations in respect of the annual demand notice councils must take reasonable steps to see whether any discount (and there are others in addition to the 25% discount) should apply. Having done this the council is bound by law to make statutory assumptions as to the future, ie the next 12 months. One of these relates to amount and the other to rate ie 25%. The law also states that councils must inform taxpayers of these assumptions. Demand notices must explain to taxpayers that if in the future residence circumstances change so that there is no longer an entitlement to the 25% they must tell the council within a set time of realising that they are not entitled to the rate that has been used to deduct the amount. The arrival of a new voter, whose presence is indicated by electoral registers drawn up some months after the council tax bills are sent out does not indicate an anomaly, inconcistency, any lie or false claim by the taxpayer, any failure by the taxpayer to inform the council or lack of entitlement.

As the EC realises, not all people on the electoral register 'count' actually live in the house. Moreover, many registered voters do not count for council tax purposes. The largest category of such disregarded voters are young adults in full time education and training, which, given current government policies are a very high percentage of the age group.

It is a sad fact that these young people, registered to vote for the first time in their lives, make up the majority of abortive cases in these NFI directed fraud investigations/fishing trips.

There is something particularly unfair about this, as I feel you will agree. Moreover, nobody warns them that if their parents/carers register them their parents will probably end up on a 'high risk' fraud hit list sent by the NFI to the local council, following which investigation letters will be sent out and their parents will be required, subject to threats of unlawful council tax bills for money they DO NOT OWE, to eliminate themselves, to SHOW THEY ARE INNOCENT, despite there not being one shred of evidence to the contrary. It appears that the NFI calls these investigations 'reviews' and that councils believe, probably encouraged by the NFI, that people who object to being on these hit lists, are unreasonable, as nobody can object to being reviewed.

It is heartening, therefore, that even the M of J has expressed disquiet about all this. I wonder whether the NFI would dare to tell the M o f J it is being unreasonable, or if such insults are reserved for the victims of this appalling mess.

Things have got to the point where some councils are insisting that people 'register' student children who have left home for university with the council tax department, presumably in an effort to cut down on abortive fraud investigations when NFI and credit reference agencies use the electoral register to populate lists of 'high risk' fraud cases for investigation (see Protecting the Public Purse),

To help you here are some links to council tax law including those specifying when it is lawful to send adjusted demand notices and setting out the statutory assumptions which in law provide the 'basis' on which bills sent out at the start of the year have 25% deducted from them.

Many people falsely believe that NFI data matches show inconsistencies, anomalies, situations which should not occur or that they appear to provide prima facie evidence of lack of entitlement. In the case of the electoral register council tax matching, this is not the case and it can do nothing to help matters that the NFI persistently published misleading information on this matter, as it does. Protecting the Public Purse is just one of a series of highly prejudicial and misleading documents.

These links are to the relevant law, and are correct in all material matters.

http://www.england-legislation.hmso.gov....

Ascertainment of entitlement to discount
14. Before making any calculation for the purposes of Part V of these Regulations of the chargeable amount in respect of any dwelling in its area, a billing authority shall take reasonable steps to ascertain whether that amount is subject to any discount under section 11 of the Act or, in the case of a chargeable dwelling in Wales, that section or section 12 of the Act, and if so, the amount of that discount.

11
Discounts .(1)
The amount of council tax payable in respect of any chargeable dwelling and any day shall be subject to a discount equal to the appropriate percentage of that amount if on that day— .
(a)
there is only one resident of the dwelling and he does not fall to be disregarded for the purposes of discount; or .
(b)
there are two or more residents of the dwelling and each of them except one falls to be disregarded for those purposes. .
(2)
Subject to section 12 below, the amount of council tax payable in respect of any chargeable dwelling and any day shall be subject to a discount equal to twice the appropriate percentage of that amount if on that day— .
(a)
there is no resident of the dwelling; or .
(b)
there are one or more residents of the dwelling and each of them falls to be disregarded for the purposes of discount. .
(3)
In this section and section 12 below “the appropriate percentage” means 25 per cent. or, if the Secretary of State by order so provides in relation to the financial year in which the day falls, such other percentage as is specified in the order. .
(4)
No order under subsection (3) above shall be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by resolution of the House of Commons. .
(5)
Schedule 1 to this Act shall have effect for determining who shall be disregarded for the purposes of discount.

Assumptions as to discount
15.—(1) Where, having taken such steps as are referred to in regulation 14, a billing authority has no reason to believe that the chargeable amount for the financial year concerned is subject to a discount, it shall assume, in making any calculation of the chargeable amount for the purposes of Part V of these Regulations, that the chargeable amount is not subject to any discount.

(2) Where, having taken such steps as are referred to in regulation 14, a billing authority has reason to believe that the chargeable amount for the financial year concerned is subject to a discount of a particular amount, it shall assume, in making any such calculation as is mentioned in paragraph (1) above, that the chargeable amount is subject to a discount of that amount.

MATTERS TO BE CONTAINED IN COUNCIL TAX DEMAND NOTICES#

Discounts and reductions
16. The days (if any) when the amount payable under the notice was calculated by reference to—
(a)section 11 of the Act (discounts),

Explanatory notes
24. Explanatory notes, which must include—
(a)a general indication of the principles relevant to the compilation of the billing authority's valuation list;
(b)a general indication of the circumstances in which—
(i)a dwelling may be an exempt dwelling for the purposes of Part 1 of the Act,
(ii)an amount may be subject to a discount under section 11 or under a determination made under section 11A of the Act,

My aim here is to ensure that the EC is fully aware of exactly what is being done with people's electoral registration data. Only if it has a clear and accurate understanding of the basis on which 25% is deducted from bills can this be achieved.

On the use of credit reference agencies by councils, one question raised in the emails of which I have been sent copies is whether the electoral register is used to ascertain that people are entitled. This is done by many councils using the electoral register and credit reference agencies as their agents. My own council claims that this is legal as it then searches those whos entitlement was not discovered by this means in search of fraud. However it is clear that one motivation for this method is to save on admin. This is frequently described with approval by Experian as you will see if you Google. I do not think that electoral register law allows councils to use it to ratify entitlement to discounts thereby saving money on annual claim forms but this is what they do. This makes it even more unfair for the NFI to imply that people are 'claiming' to live alone if the council has the property registered as 'single occupancy'. Councils cannot afford annual claim forms and have given up sending them out.

I hope this information is useful. It is correct to the best of my belief.

Yours sincerely,

K Hodgkinson

Rosie Sidey, Electoral Commission

Dear K Hodgkinson,

Thank you for your comments. As requested I have passed these on to Louise Footner.

Kind Regards,

Rosie Sidey
Lawyer

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