Thursday May 6th, 2010 informationliberation.com
The council snoopers sizing up your garden for a 'tax database' (The Daily Mail)
Details of every garden in England have been put on a database by government officials.

The aim is to use the information to justify increased council tax bills after the election.

The 'garden tax' database, called the Geographical Information System, records even minor features of the land a home occupies. For example it shows if a driveway is shared and the size of side passages at end-of-terrace houses.

Neighbourhood watch: The details of every garden in England have been included on a new database

It will tell councils setting local taxes if they should increase their bills because a home has a good view, for example of a golf course or a lake.

The database has been prepared by the Valuation Office Agency which values homes for council tax and gives advice to ministers. Its existence was disclosed following Freedom of Information requests.

The system, which is still collecting data, is scheduled to be available in July to provide extra information for the agency's 'automated valuation model' which already provides basic details of the 21.7million homes in England.

Ministers have spent 3.4million on setting up the GIS to supply full information on gardens.

At present, officials believe they do not have correct data on the size and contents of more than one in ten gardens and yards surrounding houses and flats.

Information for the GIS is gathered from Valuation Office partners such as mapping group Ordnance Survey and air photography companies.

The data will become useful if a returned Labour government goes ahead with a revaluation of homes in England which is expected to mean a major rise in council tax bills for four million homes.

It would take into account alterations which have added value to houses like conservatories and extra bedrooms. It would also mean higher bills for those with swimming pools, summer houses, nearby parks and public transport links.

Tory local government spokesman Caroline Spelman said the GIS 'is clear evidence Gordon Brown is planning a garden tax after the election'.

A VOA spokesman a said: 'The system has been acquired to support the current work of the VOA, as we have a statutory duty to maintain accurate council tax and rating lists.'