Commons Conservators Accused Of "Maladministration"

New boundary maps show significant changes from earlier versions

Related links

Sign up for email newsletters from

Wimbledon & Putney Conservators have been accused of failing to maintain an accurate and reliable map of their Levy catchment area.

Local community group, The Friends of Putney Common (FofPC), have said this has led to a number of residents being taxed incorrectly, while others failed to have the Levy collected.

Following evidence provided by the FofPC, the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators (WPCC) have now published a revised map of the Levy catchment, prepared by Ordnance Survey (OS).

The new map uses the definition set out in the 1871 Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act and amended by a Statutory Instrument (SI 1990/201) in 1990.

A spokesman for FofPC said today: “This situation is completely unacceptable, particularly as it has gone on for decades. The Conservators have failed to manage the most basic requirement for collecting the Levy, an accurate and reliable map. Local people funding the commons should not have to put up with this maladministration by the Charity.

"The failure has led to three local authorities taxing some residents, incorrectly, while ignoring others. The Conservators need to explain in detail how this could have happened and why they lacked the controls to ensure that the annually collected Levy was based on the most accurate information available. The Conservators are a shambles in terms of governance.”

The Commons Levy is paid by all Council taxpayers within the designated boundaries defined by the 1871 Act of Parliament that created the Commons and specified how it should be run.
The Levy area includes those living within the old Parish of Putney (which includes part of Roehampton) and those living within three-quarters of a mile of the edge of Wimbledon Common (including Putney Heath), measured along footpaths and roads. The Electors are residents within the boundary who are registered to vote on the local Electoral Roll. The Levy and electoral list have different criteria, although the boundary is common to both.

The three local authorities responsible for collecting the Levy are currently Wandsworth, Merton and Kingston. The digital map shows that Richmond upon Thames also has an area falling within the catchment, previously missed by the Conservators, despite it being shown clearly on the 1915 map previously used.

The OS digital map indicates that there are significant discrepancies. FofPC understands the Conservators are undertaking a detailed analysis of the data to ascertain the extent of the issue. To do so they will need to compare the UPRN (Unique Property Reference Number) generated from the OS map and database with the Council tax lists from Wandsworth, Merton, Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames. This will provide a clearer view of which homes have been wrongly taxed, and who is due a refund. It will also identify all homes that should have been included in the catchment, but have not been. The incorrect WPCC maps have been used for many years, despite significant changes in the data as a result of new developments and other changes. It is not clear why the Conservators chose to ignore the discrepancies for so long as they are obliged to maintain accurate maps of the Levy area under the 1871 Act."

A spokesperson for WPCC told PutneySW15: "David Devons, Chairman of Wimbledon and Putney Commons has advised that whilst the road map of the Levy-paying area has been periodically examined, as part of the triennial election procedures, the Conservators have been conscious of the need to move to a digital map. This is particularly important to ensure that, for the forthcoming Conservator Election in February 2015, the boundary of the Levy-paying area is as accurate as possible and that all potential electors have an opportunity to vote.

"The new digital map has been prepared for the Commons by Ordnance Survey based upon the definitions in the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act 1871. Whilst, in the interests of transparency, the new map has been published, the Conservators have identified a number of apparent anomalies compared with the existing maps in respect of certain properties, particularly on the periphery of the Levy-paying area. Some have not previously been included and others may no longer fall within the newly defined boundary. Discussions are currently taking place with the relevant Councils over how to address these discrepancies.

"The statement of maladministration by the Friends of Putney Commons, who recently lost their litigation against the Conservators over the Putney Hospital site, both at the High Court and at the Court of Appeal, is most unfortunate. The Conservators take their responsibilities towards the management of Wimbledon and Putney Commons very seriously, giving up many hours as volunteers to ensure the stewardship of the Commons for benefit of Levy-payers and other visitors."

According to FofPC the discrepancies between the previous maps used by the Conservators and the new map show that:

• The Conservators have completely failed to keep accurate and up to date maps, which they are obliged to do. They relied on a map originally dating from 1915, to establish the Levy payment area and on which the Conservators’ elections are based;

• The new OS digital map indicates that there are significant discrepancies between the old and newly produced maps as a result of new developments and other changes;

• Some properties have been incorrectly obliged to pay the Levy through their Council tax. Other residences which should have been included in the Levy-paying area have been excluded;

• A detailed review is underway, to establish accurately the number of properties incorrectly classified. An example of the inaccuracies includes homes in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames excluded from paying the Levy, despite being within the historic boundaries.

• Conversely parts of entire streets have been wrongly included in the current Levy paying area. In a single Wandsworth street some 22 homes are incorrectly classified, another nearby has 38. A street in Kingston has 21 homes incorrectly paying the tax. New developments totalling hundreds of homes have been excluded from the Levy-paying area, despite being occupied for years. For example, an initial review by FofPC has identified discrepancies in Amity Grove, Merton; Kingston Hill Place, Kingston; Buttermere Drive, Portinscale Road, Keswick Road, Monck’s Row and Coldstream Gardens all in Wandsworth. FofPC expects a detailed review will identify numerous further errors.

• It seems likely that any residents who have been incorrectly paying the Commons’ Levy, (through their Council tax bills), will be entitled to claim a refund, in many case for decades. The Conservators accept that refunds will need to be made. The average Levy paid in Wandsworth collected through the Council Tax is just over £34 a year.

• The Levy-paying area also drives the electoral lists for the Conservators’ elections and therefore similar discrepancies will flow through. The “WPCC electoral roll” as it currently stands is fundamentally inaccurate, and has been for many years. Again entire streets of dozens of homes are “entitled” to vote under the old map, but “not entitled” under the new accurate version.

The consequences of the Conservators using historically inaccurate maps, according to FofPC tare;

• Properties which have been included within the Levy-paying area are no longer in the catchment. Some residents have been paying the Levy through their council tax and should not have been. They will be due a refund for all levies paid, in many cases over decades.

• Some properties which are within the Levy-paying boundary have not been included, and these have not paid the Levy, adding a further burden on those who pay. It would appear that the discrepancies in some cases occurred yearly since the 1871 Act was revised with a Statutory Instrument in 1990.

• The list of voters for the Conservators’ elections has been similarly skewed. Some residents who were able to vote in previous elections should not have been entitled; others who should have been enfranchised were not. This calls into question results of the elections.

• The new map shows that an additional local authority also has Levy-payers. Parts of the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames fall within the boundary and many residents will become Levy-payers and will need to be enfranchised. The Conservators will be obliged to introduce arrangements to collect the Levy, in conjunction with Richmond Council.

FofPC, describing the situation as “completely unacceptable” have called on David Devons, Chair of the Charity and his elected colleagues, Andrew Simon and John Horrocks who have held the Chair of WPCC previously, to resign immediately.

Refunds to some Levy payers may need to be calculated , a spokesman for Fof PC said:
"As the errors have been ignored by the Conservators for years, the payments may be significant. In total, the refunds may amount to a substantial sum and will effectively be funded by ratepayers, as the Conservators are funded publically. All Levy-payers and electors are affected by the Conservators failure to accurately define the Levy-paying area and to ignore the issue year after year. The Conservators will need to urgently ascertain the extent of the discrepancies and the financial effect it will have on the Charity. FofPC regard this as a fundamental failure by the Conservators to effectively manage the Charity that owns and manages Wimbledon and Putney Commons."

October 23, 2014