Data Matching involving electoral register and council tax 'data'

K Hodgkinson made this Freedom of Information request to Audit Scotland

The request was successful.

From: K Hodgkinson

Dear Sir or Madam,

ONE

Fair processing notices in connection with the National Fraud Audit are available here

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

These notices tell people they can find more information on the reasons for each match here

http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/nfi/g...

Therefore, it seems reasonable to expect that one should be able to download the information from that internet address.

However, it is not accessible via the internet. One is either redirected to other Audit Commission sites or to a page requiring a log in which I do not have.

Given that it appears that this information is intended to be accessible as part of one's right to know about the processing that will take place using one's data, and that the fair processing pages of many authorities include a link to this guidance, I request a copy of that guidance.

TWO

Please also provide copies of any internal papers, guidance, briefings, minutes etc held by Audit Scotland in which the significance of and rationale for this match are discussed, including any covering the long standing arguments between the Audit Commission and some local councils about the use of the electoral register for such purposes.

THREE

Please also provide copies of any internal papers relevant to the question of whether the law and practice in Scotland differs from the law in England in respect of this matching exercise: I note that Scotland has a Code of Data Matching that differs from the English one.

Yours faithfully,

K Hodgkinson

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From: K Hodgkinson

Dear Sir or Madam,

Audit Commission Scotland states that where 'matches' are found they indicate that there is an inconsistency which requires investigation.

In the case of 25% council tax discount matches, precisely what is inconsistent with what?

I would hope that my request would produce an explanation of this, as no such explanation may be found at present yet the existence of such an 'inconsistency' would appear to underpin the arguments that this matching is lawful in each individual case.

I look forward to your kind clarification of this perplexing question.

Yours faithfully,

K Hodgkinson

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K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

It would, I feel, be both helpful and appropriate, if you consulted the relevant council tax regulations before answering and avoided using wholly misleading phrases like 'claiming to live on their own' that have no basis in council tax law.

For the avoidance of doubt, this match does not show that 'a person is claiming to live alone but there is more than one adult on the electoral register'.

Nor does it show a lack of entitlement to the 25% discount.

I thought it would be helpful to rule out a couple of commonly believed urban myths at the outset.

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From: Dave Beveridge
Audit Scotland


Attachment 09 11 17 FOI Hodgkinson NFI SPDs.pdf
37K Download View as HTML

Attachment 07 12 17 counsel advice electoral register councils KCs.pdf
24K Download View as HTML

Attachment 07 12 17 COUNSELs ADVICE ELECTORAL REGISTER.pdf
77K Download View as HTML

Attachment 08 01 31 Lewis second advice ER ext.pdf
49K Download View as HTML

Attachment 08 03 20 solar nfi er ext.pdf
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K Hodgkinson

Dear Sir or Madam

Please find attached a letter (file prefixed 09-11-17) and four other
attachments being our response to your 2 FOI requests dated 25 October
2009.

Regards.

David Beveridge.

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From: K Hodgkinson

Dear Dave Beveridge,

These documents are useful. Thank you very much.

They appear to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Audit Commission believes that there is some residence based 'sole occupancy' discount and that one can tell by looking at the electoral register that a person is not entitled to it. The barrister who provided an opinion based on this legally incorrect assertion puts it as follows: 'revenue foregone'. And it is on the basis that the electoral register can be used to compile hit lists of cases where revenue has been foregone that the arguments that it is proper and legal for the Audit Commission to obtain and use the electoral register for data matching rest.

It would appear that there is no duty on barristers to check whether the law as stated in their briefs is correct. The question arises of whether obtaining briefs based on incorrectly stated law would count as a waste of public money. Such actions would be especially reprehensible when done by Audit Commissions charged with ensuring good governance and efficient use of public resources.

In fact, it is not possible to tell from the electoral register that a person is not entitled to the discount he is claiming.

The Audit Commission has clearly being supplying legally incorrect assertion to Audit Scotland and to others. Its own pilots, and indeed, the additional income estimates arising from these, are based on a series of false assertions, all arising from this basic mistake.

It appears that the NFI pilots of this match were undertaken on the false belief that they were carrying out unambiguous matching - in which case questions arise about the competence of all those involved.

Getting a barrister to parrot your false beliefs about the basis of 25% discounts may be a good move in political and rhetorical terms. There is always a risk, however, that an astute taxpayer who has paid attention to the statutory content of his demand notices will pick up on the error.

The assertions about this match in the Audit Commission Report for 2006/2007 do not accurately reflect council tax law either. Briefly, they are nonsense. They incorrectly state the basis on which the discount is deducted, the significance of the data on the required data sets and the meaning of the output. In so far as figures reflect false beliefs about lack of entitlement they may be grossly exagerated.

Since this match does not provide evidence of an inconsistency, it is in breach of the Scottish Code of Data Matching, which requires that particular data processing techniques must be used and that output must indicate that there is an inconsistency.

You state that you would prefer to describe the output of this data processing procedure as a 'potential inconsistency'. I agree that this might be a more accurate account of it. The problem is that your Code of Practice requires that output should show that there is an inconsistency. Therefore, you appear to be in effect admitting the truth, which is that this exercise does not provide a list of cases in which it is plain that there is prima facie evidence of lack of entitlement. In that case, the whole house of cards tumbles down.

I guessed before looking that the lengthy list of legal frameworks examined by Mr Frith would not include the Local Government Finance Act. This is a pity, because had Mr Frith looked at Section 79 he would instantly have realised that what the barrister and Audit England were saying was false. Mr Frith might have gone on to look at, for example, the Council Tax Administration and Enforcement Regulations for Scotland, and have informed himself of the actual basis of all 25% discounts. Section 79 sets out 25% and 50% discounts. All of these discounts are deducted from bills on the basis of a statutory assumption set out in the law, which is an assumption about entitlement. No council tax discount is ever awarded on the basis of declarations made by taxpayers, or on the basis of the information in the council tax data sets which are compared in this data mismatching mess. This important fact may have escaped the attention of Audit England and Audit Scotland. It may be an inconvenient fact, but the Audit Commissions must take the law as it is, not as they would like it to be.

Your response mentions the duties of taxpayers. However, it would appear that you have may have misunderstood these. Crucially, it would be inappropriate to assert that the output from this processing provides evidence of a failure to carry out any statutory duty to inform, because it does not.

When the taxpayer gets a bill, it must inform him that such and such an amount has been deducted from his bill and why this amount has been deducted from his bill. He must be sent an account of all the discounts. This information enables him to know which changes in circumstances he must report to the council and which changes in circumstances he needs not report to the council. A duty to inform of changed circumstances only arises when these affect the amount of the discount.

Your argument that innocent people can protect themselves against being labelled as 'high risk' cases on hit lists compiled as the basis for investigations in search of fraud, does not hold.

The answer to the question of what will be done to ensure that innocent entitled people do not get labelled and stigmatised as 'high risk' fraud cases, using the filters which the Audit Commission suggests that Councils apply to the set of hit lists would appear to be nothing.

On the contrary, through its powers to issue adverse reports on councils that do not investigate these hit lists in search of inconsistencies and fraud it would appear that Audit Scotland is an active participant.

We are in a situation where, ironically, fair processing notices asserting that cases are only investigated where there 'IS' an inconsistency are blinding us to the truth about what use is really being made of the vast amounts of personal information which the Audit Commission may now access.

It appears that in fact, large numbers of innocent entitled people are being labelled as 'high risk' cases on statistical grounds. This stigmatising label in itself becomes personal data, which is shared widely among participating bodies.

As this exercise rolls out, large numbers of people will find themselves being subject to 'checks' and 'reviews'- often carried out by investigators who falsely believe that this out put does indicate that there is an inconsistency and who have been incorrectly briefed about council tax law.

They appear to be likely to be informed falsely that the exercise is permissible under a Code of Data Matching Practice, when, of course, it is not.

The time has come for Audit Scotland to do more than rely on incorrect briefings from the Audit Commission and to undertake a full review, including a full review of all the relevant council tax law and administrations including billing regulations as these apply in Scotland, and to obtain its own, independent legal briefings on these. It would appear on the basis of the information disclosed here that the NFI has so failed to do this.

Thank you again for this evidence of the Audit Commission's errors.

Yours sincerely,

K Hodgkinson

http://www.uk-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/si...

http://www.uk-legislation.hmso.gov.uk/si...

http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.asp...(Administration+and+Enforcement)+Scotland)+Regulations+1992+&searchEnacted=0&extentMatchOnly=0&confersPower=0&blanketAmendment=0&sortAlpha=0&TYPE=QS&PageNumber=1&NavFrom=0&parentActiveTextDocId=3238646&ActiveTextDocId=3238699&filesize=520

Section 79
79 Discounts
(1)The amount of council tax payable in respect of a 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)The amount of council tax payable in respect of a 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)F1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
(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 “the appropriate percentage" means 25 per cent. or, if the Secretary of State by order so provides in respect of the financial year in which the day falls, such other percentage as is specified in the order.

Admin Regs (Scotland)
Ascertainment of entitlement to discount
12. A levying authority shall, before making any calculation for the purposes of Part V of these Regulations of the chargeable amount in respect of any dwelling in their area, take reasonable steps to ascertain whether that amount is subject to any discount under section 79 of the Act or under that section as read with paragraph 11 of Schedule 11 to the Act and, if so, the amount of that discount.

Assumptions as to discount
13.—(1) Where a levying authority, having taken such steps as are referred to in regulation 12, have no reason to believe that the chargeable amount for the financial year concerned is subject to a discount, they 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 a levying authority, having taken such steps as are referred to in regulation 12, have reason to believe that the chargeable amount for the financial year concerned is subject to a discount of a particular amount, they shall assume, in making any such calculation as is mentioned in paragraph (1), that the chargeable amount is subject to a discount of that amount.

Notification of discount assumptions
14.—(1) Subject to paragraphs (3) to (5), as soon as reasonably practicable after a levying authority have made such an assumption as is mentioned in regulation 13(2), they shall by notice inform the relevant person of the assumption made in his case.

(2) Subject to paragraph (4), a levying authority shall supply with any such notice a statement—
(a) of the basis on which the authority assumed that the chargeable amount was or should be subject to a discount; (NB THIS DOES NOT MEAN RESIDENCE DETAILS OR THE CONTENTS OF COUNCIL TAX DATA BASES)

(b) summarising the contents of regulation 15 and advising the relevant person that a penalty of £50 may be imposed on him under paragraph 2(2) of Schedule 3 to the Act if he fails to comply with the obligation contained in that regulation.

Correction of discount assumptions
15.—(1) Subject to paragraph (3), where a person—
(a) has been informed of an assumption under regulation 13(2) made in his case; and

(b) at any time before the end of the financial year following the financial year in respect of which the assumption is made, 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;(NB NOTHING HERE ABOUT RESIDENCE CIRCUMSTANCES.DUTY ARISES ONLY IF, IN BRIEF, THE BILL IS NOT HIGH ENOUGH)

he shall, within the period of 21 days beginning on the day on which he first has reason so to believe, notify the authority in writing of his belief.

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K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

Put briefly:

There is no such thing as a single person discount. Therefore nobody could possibly claim such a thing as a result of fraud or of error. Nobody can claim something which does not exist.

Nobody can incorrectly receive a discount which does not exist either.

No council can incorrectly 'award' a discount that does not exist.

It is therefore not reasonable for Audit Scotland to suspect that people might be fraudulently receiving or claiming a discount that does not exist.

It is perfectly lawful and proper to be in receipt of a 25% discount when more than one person is on the electoral register at your address.

If there is more than one person on the electoral address, this is not evidence that you are a liar, it is not evidence that you have supplied false or incomplete information, it is not evidence that you are incorrectly receiving a 25% discount, and it is not evidence that your council has 'awarded' a 25% discount incorrectly.

Therefore, the outputs of this data processing are not 'matches' as defined in the Scottish Code of Data Matching Practice, and anybody who tries to tell you that they are is wrong.

It seems possible that they are assuming that the data bases held by councils represent 'claim's made by taxpayers, or that these data bases represent the 'basis' on which the discount has been deducted.

Given the law,with which I have provided you, it is clear that any council which did deduct the discount on the basis of descriptors applied to cells on the data base instead of deducting it on the basis of the law would be guilty of maladministration.

The Scottish Code of Data Matching Practice is here.

This data processing is completely at odds with it.
Being suspected of fraud and being on hit lists for council fraud investigators is distressing. The Code exists to protect people against distressing uses of their information. No enactment allows any Audit Commission to suspect people of fraudulently receiving a discount that does not exist. Doing this would be unreasonable.

http://www.audit-scotland.gov.uk/work/nf...

The person to whom complaints should be made is the Information Commissioner for Scotland. My understanding is that you do not need to have been personally distressed to make a complaint, though it helps.

http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/...

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K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

If you live in Scotland, write to your MSP, and request that firmer controls on Audit Scotland data matching are written into the forthcoming Criminal Justice Bill on the grounds that Audit Scotland has publicly (here) expressed its opposition to existing Data Matching Controls and does not want to limit its matching to cases where matching shows that there is an inconsistency.

State that this is the best way to protect the human right to privacy, fair use of personal data and unrestricted access to the democratic right to vote as per the ECHR.

Insist that terms controlling the algorithms and limited the sort of 'data matching' to cases where prima facie anomalies are found go in the law in very big letters.

And do it now.

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/apps2/...

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K Hodgkinson left an annotation ()

Council tax law in Scotland is worded differently from the law in England and is, as a result, even clearer about the basis of the discount and the obligations of the taxpayer.

It would appear to be crystal clear that Audit Scotland has not read these and/or does not understand them.

It has most certainly been misinforming people left right and centre, including council CEOs, and the Criminal Justice Committee, if not the MSP leading this committee himself, about this data mangling exercise.

Given the amount of personal private information which these bodies are demanding, and the significance of being on an Audit Scotland 'hit list' as a fraud suspect, this is appalling.

One has to ask which part of 'innocent entitled people should not be on fraud hit lists' and this should not happen in a free society' Audit Scotland finds it difficult to grasp!

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