Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data (Q4 2020)

Gavin Chait made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to Manchester City Council as part of a batch sent to 63 authorities

Automatic anti-spam measures are in place for this older request. Please let us know if a further response is expected or if you are having trouble responding.

Roedd y cais yn llwyddiannus.

Dear Manchester City Council,

In terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, and subject to section 40(2) on personal data, could you please provide me with your local authority’s complete and most-recently updated list of all business (non-residential) property rates data, including the following fields:

- Billing Authority Property Reference Code (linking the property to the public VOA database reference)
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant or ratepayer)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupation / Vacancy status
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds) and/or categories of reliefs/exemptions granted

If you are unable to provide an absolute “Occupation / Vacancy” status, please provide the Exemptions and / or Reliefs that a particular property may be receiving.

NOTE: While FOIs are meant to be requestor blind, these data are actively used by national government and UK universities to inform the economic response to COVID-19. Commercial ratepayer data are always of public interest but, in the midst of a global pandemic and its consequent devastating economic fallout, these data are vital to track business behaviour and guide government and enterprise adaptation to the social impact of COVID-19. Please publish quickly so that organisations trying to support your local authority can do so, and, if you have any difficulties, please contact me so that I may help.

Please provide these data as machine-readable as either a CSV or Microsoft Excel file, capable of re-use, and under terms of the Open Government Licence (reuse for any and all purposes, including commercial).

I last requested these data three months ago, and this is a request for your latest updated dataset.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

foi@manchester.gov.uk, Manchester City Council

We acknowledge receipt of your request to Manchester City Council,
concerning:

Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data (Q4 2020)

If your request comes under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) or
the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), we will aim to
respond as promptly as we can and by no later than 20 working days.
Sometimes an extension to that timescale will apply and we will let you
know if that is the case.

If some or all of your request needs to be considered under processes
other than those provided by FOIA or EIR, different timescales may apply.
In particular, any part of your request that concerns your own personal
information will be considered in line with your rights under data
protection legislation (including the right of access) and we will aim to
provide you with a response in respect of that part of your request
without undue delay and by no later than one calendar month, unless an
extension to that timescale applies (we will let you know if that is the
case).

 

The reference number for your request is FOI/3724.

 

Please note that Manchester City Council is currently handling a large
volume of business critical work aimed towards the protection and
safeguarding of at risk groups during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Accordingly, Freedom of Information/subject access requests made to
Manchester City Council during the COVID-19 outbreak may have a longer
response period than that stated above. The response that you receive may
also not be complete in whole or in part. This is because:

 

* Responding to your request may require business area resource which is
currently directed towards direct aid of members of the public during
the COVID-19 outbreak. Directing resources towards responding to your
request could result in vital care of service not being delivered, and
may expose individuals to COVID-19;?
* Under central government guidance to help prevent the spread of
COVID-19, all Manchester City Council staff who are able to are
working from home until further notice. As such they may not be able
to get hold of certain information which cannot be accessed remotely,
and accessing it would potentially expose the individual to COVID-19.

Should you have any further inquiries concerning your request, please
reply to this email leaving the subject line unchanged.

Yours sincerely
Manchester City Council

Your personal data is very important to us. Please refer to our privacy
notice at [1]www.manchester.gov.uk/privacy for further information.

References

Visible links
1. http://www.manchester.gov.uk/privacy

Business Rates, Manchester City Council

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Chait
Please find attached my response to your request for information received
on 12 January 2021.
Regards
Andrew Heap
Business Rates 
Team Manager 
You may find the answers to any further enquiries by using the links
below. In the interests of efficiency the Council would expect businesses
to use this facility.
Full details of your individual business rates account, including copies
of your bills, are available online using our connect service.  This
allows you to obtain information on demand.
REGISTER NOW at:
connect.revbens.manchester.gov.uk/publicaccesslive/selfservice/citizenportal/login.htm
In addition comprehensive guidance surrounding business rates can be found
on our web pages at:
www.manchester.gov.uk/businessrates
Business Rates Service
Manchester City Council
Revenues & Benefits Unit
P.O Box 3
Manchester
M15 5BA

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

References

Visible links
1. http://www.manchester.gov.uk/emaildiscla...
2. http://www.manchester.gov.uk/privacy

Dear Manchester City Council,

On 13 January 2021, I sent an FOI request for a complete and up-to-date list of all business (non-residential) property rates data, and including the following fields:

- Billing Authority Property Reference Code (linking the property to the VOA database reference)
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant or ratepayer)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupation / Vacancy status
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds) or categories of reliefs/exemptions granted

My request has been refused in terms of Section 31(1)(a). According to the Information Commissioner's Office, "Section 31 is a prejudice based exemption and is subject to the public interest test. This means that not only does the information have to prejudice one of the purposes listed, but, before the information can be withheld, the public interest in preventing that prejudice must outweigh the public interest in disclosure."

Section 31(1)(a) deals specifically with "the prevention or detection of crime".

You don’t state what the nature of the risk of crime is, and it is not sufficient to simply claim Section 31. There is a de minimus requirement required to engage Section 31, and - thereafter - the public interest test takes priority. Even more concerning in terms of your refusal is that you have published these data quarterly for as long as I have been collating this series. To suddenly change your policy without any attempt to provide any justification must be challenged.

I have prepared my own research into crime in vacant commercial properties by sending FOIs to every police authority in England and Wales. What follows is my submission to ICO and to the Information Tribunal in various cases over the past few years. Apologies if it seems pedantic, but it is critical that we have a common set of probabilistic definitions.

Vacancies form a small proportion of any commercial property base. Vacancy rates vary from as little as 2.6% in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, to 19.4% in the West Midlands.

Assuming that crime is evenly distributed (i.e. that an occupied commercial property is as likely to experience crime as an unoccupied property), for a vacancy rate of 10% you would expect a ratio of 9 crimes in occupied properties for each crime in an unoccupied property (ratio of 9:1).

In a street of 10 commercial properties, if 10 crimes were committed, and every property had an equal chance of being affected, then – all things being equal – each property, vacant or not, would experience one crime. That is the definition of “equal probability”, any property – irrespective of occupation state – is at the same risk.

Therefore, if we know the absolute number of property-related crimes, we can estimate a predicted number of crimes for both occupied and vacant properties. If the real data reveals more crime than predicted we have a positive correlation for increased risk; if the real data reveals the opposite, less crime than predicted, we have a negative correlation for increased risk.

According to UK Crime Stats (https://www.ukcrimestats.com/Subdivision...) Hartlepool experiences the following level of crime between October 2018 and September 2019 relating to Burglary + Criminal damage & arson + Robbery + Shoplifting = 4,199.

The ratio of 10 to 1 implies that, if there were 4,199 commercial property-related crimes, an average of 420 of these types of crimes would have been committed in vacant properties between October 2018 and September 2019.

Compare your data and offer some evidence as to why you believe you are experiencing a greater-than-expected level of crime in vacant commercial properties.

It is insufficient to simply produce evidence that crime occurs in vacant properties. It is necessary to produce evidence demonstrating that vacancy property crime occurs at a rate higher than expected. I do not believe that you have done so; or could.

I requested statistics on crimes by vacancy status from Cleveland Police in March 2016. These data are not aggregated and Cleveland Police were unable to comply unless I was willing to pay to have them go back through each written crime report and extract that data manually, if it existed at all (https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...). If Cleveland Police have no data, then Hartlepool has no data.

If you have data that supports crime levels in vacant properties significantly in excess of what is expected per year, then we can assess whether or not vacant properties are at greater risk to crime. Note, however, greater risk does not identify the cause of that risk. I imagine that this would be of interest?

When I started my research in early 2016, 70 out of 348 local authorities were already regularly publishing their vacancy data to their open data websites. However, 66 local authorities in England and Wales refused to publish citing the risk of such data being used to commit crime. Their justifications cited previous findings by the Information Tribunal (such as Mr. Yiannis Voyias v the Information Commissioner and Camden EA/2011/0007) to validate their decisions.

They did not conduct their own risk assessments, they simply used Voyias as justification.

During 2016, I sent FOI requests to all police services across England and Wales requesting total number of incidents of criminal activity in empty commercial properties. At the time, I had secured 66% of vacancy data from local authorities through FOI requests, and direct access.

The combination of crime incident data and the list of local authorities would permit easy comparison between areas that regularly disclose and those which choose not to in order to assess whether there is a greater risk as a result of disclosure.

Out of 44 police services, only two were able to provide data on incidents in empty commercial properties. The remaining police services do not specifically collect such data and have no way of knowing what the incident rates are.

The two who have are Thames Valley Police and North Wales Police. If a relevant police authority is advising you on a Section 31(1)(a) exemption, then - unless they are either of these - they do not have data to validate their opinion.

There are about 45,000 commercial properties in North Wales and vacancies are about 8%, leading to an expected crime ratio of 12:1. North Wales Police state that there are an average of 1,780 crimes a year in occupied properties, and 26 crimes a year in unoccupied properties that largely have to do with theft, vandalism or arson (note that squatting in commercial property is not a crime and so unrecorded).

The total of 1,806 implies the expected number of vacant property crime incidents to be 71; 270% higher than the actual 26 recorded.

In other words, there is a large negative correlation between crimes committed in vacant properties relative to what was expected. A vacant property is less likely to experience crime.

This tells us that crime in empty commercial premises is extremely rare, and explains why most police services do not bother routinely aggregating such data.

The data from the Thames Valley police gives us a better idea of the variation between authorities which publish, and those which don’t.

For example, in 2015 Oxford had 4,038 commercial properties and suffered 2 cases of empty commercial property crime at a cost of £1,259. In comparison, they had 3,133 cases of crime committed in occupied business premises, at a cost of £507,956.

By comparison, Reading, with 5,659 commercial properties suffered 2 empty commercial property crimes that caused no damage at all.

Oxford refuses to publish under Section 31(1)(a) while Reading publishes regularly.

In total, across the Thames Valley, for 74,027 properties - of which about 7,000 are empty (9.5%) - only 11 crimes related to empty properties were recorded. Compare that to occupied and actively-traded properties which experienced 29,946 reported crimes.

For an approximate 9:1 vacancy ratio, and 30,000 crimes, you would expect 3,000 vacant property crimes. 11 is a statistical rounding error. Crime in vacant properties is not a meaningful risk.

The Thames Valley data are here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...
And the North Wales Police data are here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

In two distinct parts of the UK, with different approaches to recording crime, empty property crime is extremely rare, and – more importantly for publication considerations – publication of data listing empty properties does not have any impact on the number of incidents of crime.

Some local authorities who claim exemption under Section 31(1)(a) claim to have their own data to validate these claims. I sent FOIs requesting these data to 64 local authorities (including both those who do publish empty property data, and those who do not). Not one has any data - other than very sparse anecdotal data to support their claim.

All the data I collected indicates that there is no substantive basis for concern that publishing a list of empty properties will lead to prejudice under Section 31.

In November 2016, I appealed this class of refusal – using this evidence – to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

My central argument was that, in order to justify a Section 31(1)(a) exemption it is not sufficient simply to claim that crime occurs in empty commercial premises. Neither should anecdotal tales suffice. It is also necessary to provide evidence that publishing a list of empty properties in real, measurable terms increases the expected incidence rate for crime in such properties.

My submissions to ICO resulted in the following findings in my favour:

FS50628943 vs Cornwall Council; citing Section 31(1)(a);
FS50628978 vs London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council; citing Section 31(1)(a);
FS50681246 vs London Borough of Camden; citing Section 31(1)(a);
FS50681250 vs London Borough of Greenwich; citing Section 31(1)(a) and Section 38(1)(b);
FS50681266 vs Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames Borough; citing Section 31(1)(a);
FS50681283 vs Westminster City Council who cited Section 31(1)(a);
FS50681292 vs London Borough of Wandsworth; citing Section 31(1)(a);
FS50681297 vs Knowsley Metropolitan Borough; citing Section 31(1)(a), 40(2), and 41;
FS50681322 vs West Berkshire Council; citing Section 31(1)(d);
FS50681326 vs Vale of Glamorgan; citing Section 31(1)(a);
FS50681332 vs Doncaster Metropolitan Borough; citing Section 31(1)(a);
FS50681336 vs Sheffield City Council; citing Section 31(1)(a), 31(1)(d), and 41;
FS50685343 vs London Borough of Ealing; citing Section 31(1)(a), 31(1)(d), and 31(2);
FS50685350 vs Liverpool City Council; citing Section 31(1)(a);
FS50685375 vs West Lancashire Borough Council; citing 31(1)(a);

In each of these decisions, the Commissioner either dismissed the application of the exemptions cited, or declared that “the public interest in the information being disclosed outweighs that in the exemption being maintained”.

Any claim in support of Section 31(1)(a) must also consider the public interest in the data requested.

In support of public interest, I offer that 96% of 348 local authorities in England and Wales now publish commercial vacancy data. 71% publish these as regular updates to their authority websites or open data services.

Retail and commercial vacancy, and its impact on commercial rates continue to be of great public interest (cf, as a small example, “City figures warn high street landlords face ‘tsunami’ of pressures” https://www.ft.com/content/fa7c48d0-6993..., “After the retail apocalypse, what next for the high street?” https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018..., “An investigation of the impact of 2017 business rates revaluation on independent high street retailers in the north of England” https://www.emeraldinsight.com/eprint/wT...).

These claims of a ‘retail apocalypse’ are having a very real impact on the capacity for local authorities to collect commercial rates. Most recently, Debenhams – the department store chain – has demanded business rates cuts to support their viability (https://www.ft.com/content/1bcbb9fc-6b3e...). It is critical that researchers have the data to test such claims, both now, and over time, in order to ensure that it is possible to differentiate between poor individual business management, and general economic difficulties.

I ask that you reconsider your refusal, and publish. Failing that, I will refer this matter to ICO for further review.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

foi@manchester.gov.uk, Manchester City Council

~~Dear Gavin Chait

 

Re: Request for Information - Internal Review - FOI/3724

 

Thank you for your email dated 08/02/2020  regarding the Council's
response to your request for information.

 

Your email will be treated as a request for internal review of that
original decision and will be dealt with in accordance with the Council’s
Access to Information Complaint Procedure.  The procedure is available on
the Council’s web site at   

 

http://www.manchester.gov.uk/downloads/d...

 

Please note your request will be handled as speedily as possible and a
response should be issued no later than 8th March 2020.

 

Please note that Manchester City Council is currently handling a large
volume of business critical work aimed towards the protection and
safeguarding of at risk groups during the COVID-19 outbreak. Accordingly,
Freedom of Information/subject access requests made to Manchester City
Council during the COVID-19 outbreak may have a longer response period
than that stated above. The response that you receive may also not be
complete in whole or in part. This is because:

Responding to your request may require business area resource which is
currently directed towards direct aid of members of the public during the
COVID-19 outbreak. Directing resources towards responding to your request
could result in vital care of service not being delivered, and may expose
individuals to COVID-19;
Under central government guidance to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,
all Manchester City Council staff who are able to are working from home
until further notice. As such they may not be able to get hold of certain
information which cannot be accessed remotely, and accessing it would
potentially expose the individual to COVID-19

Yours sincerely

 

Democratic Services

PO Box 532

Town Hall

Manchester

M60 2LA

Information Compliance, Manchester City Council

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Chait, 

I refer to your correspondence dated 8^th February 2021 in which you
raised concerns with the response provided by Manchester City Council
dated 5 February 2021. As a result the Council has carried out an Internal
Review into the handling of your Request for Information.  

Background 

In your original request, which was received on the 13^th January you
asked for the following information: 

In terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, and subject to section
40(2) on personal data, could you please provide me with your local
authority’s complete and most-recently updated list of all business
(non-residential) property rates data, including the following fields:

* Billing Authority Property Reference Code (linking the property to the
public VOA database reference) 
* Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant or ratepayer) 
* Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town) 
* Occupation / Vacancy status 
* Date of Occupation / Vacancy 
* Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds) and/or categories of
reliefs/exemptions granted 

On the 5^th February the following response was sent to you Andrew Heap,
Team Manager, Business Rates Service: 

 

I confirm that the Council does hold the information that you have
requested. However, having carefully considered the matter, the Council
has determined that it is unable to comply with your request.  

 

The Council considers that this information is exempt from disclosure
under Section 31(1)(a) - Law enforcement. Disclosure of this information
would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. 

  

Section 31(1)(a) is a qualified exemption, and therefore is subject to the
Public Interest Test.  Section 31(1)(a) provides an exemption where
prejudice could be caused to allow potential fraudsters to use the
information to identify business entities which might be able to claim
grants on their accounts but haven’t.  Once such a business had been
identified, there would be a number of avenues open to the fraudsters to
seek to obtain funds. 

  

This exemption is a 'qualified' exemption, which means that it is subject
to the public interest test set out in section 2(2)(b) of the 2000 Act. 
The Council has applied the public interest test and has determined that,
on balance, it is more beneficial to the public to withhold the
information than to release it.  In reaching this decision the Council has
considered the relevant factors in favour of and against disclosure, in
particular the following: 

  

Factors in favour of disclosure 

  

It is in the public interest to be open and transparent about our use of
public funds. 

  

Withholding the information could be perceived as the council attempting
to retain monies that belong to the public. 

  

Factors in favour of withholding 

  

There is a public interest in ensuring that monies from the public purse
are not fraudulently claimed and also a public interest in not making it
easier for fraud to be committed.  Publication of the requested
information would help identify companies who may be entitled to make a
claim and enable fraudsters to submit claims in their name. 

  

Disclosure of the requested information would result in the need to
implement disproportionate steps and additional expense to the public
purse to counter an increased fraud risk that do not exist at present. 

  

The cost consequences of a successful fraudulent claim would: 

* have incurred the cost of paying out to the fraudster; 
* remain liable to the legitimate rate payer for an equivalent amount,
raising the prospect of paying out twice; and 
* be faced with the cost (legal and incurrence of internal management
time) of seeking to recover the funds wrongly paid to the fraudster. 

The Council has also considered the decisions of the Information
Rights Tribunal decisions in the cases of Sheffield City Council and
Westminster City Council (Appeal References: EA/2018/0055 and
EA/2018/0033 respectively) concerning requests for business rate
information in which the Tribunal placed a very significant weight to
the issue of fraud in the balance of the public interest test. 

It is considered that the greater public interest, therefore, lies in
not providing the information at this time.  In coming to that
conclusion, the public interest in providing the information has been
carefully weighed against any prejudice to the public interest that
might arise from withholding the information; in all the circumstances
of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption
outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.  This
response, therefore, acts as a refusal notice under section 17 of the
FoIA. 

The Council also engages exemption under Section 21 – Information
reasonably accessible by other means. This exemption applies because the
information, such as the property reference is available through an
alternative route. The Council does not have to provide the information to
you under the 2000 Act as you can obtain the information direct from the
Valuation Office Agency website at [1]www.voa.gov.uk. 

 

The council would normally be prepared to provide the information you
require for properties subject to business rates, indeed it provided this
and much more updated on a monthly basis, and published it on the website
at the following link; 

 

[2]https://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/20001...

 

However, since the Covid-19 emergency began in the Spring it has ceased to
publish the information to reduce the risk of fraud whilst Covid-19 grant
applications are being dealt with in huge numbers. This decision was taken
by the business rates service after consulting the internal audit team. 

 

At some point the decision will be reviewed and publication may recommence
at the link provided above. 

 

On 8^th February you submitted an Internal Review and stated: 

 

My request has been refused in terms of Section 31(1)(a). According to the
Information Commissioner's Office, "Section 31 is a prejudice based
exemption and is subject to the public interest test. This means that not
only does the information have to prejudice one of the purposes listed,
but, before the information can be withheld, the public interest in
preventing that prejudice must outweigh the public interest in
disclosure."

Section 31(1)(a) deals specifically with "the prevention or detection of
crime".

You don’t state what the nature of the risk of crime is, and it is not
sufficient to simply claim Section 31. There is a de minimus requirement
required to engage Section 31, and - thereafter - the public interest test
takes priority. Even more concerning in terms of your refusal is that you
have published these data quarterly for as long as I have been collating
this series. To suddenly change your policy without any attempt to provide
any justification must be challenged.

I have prepared my own research into crime in vacant commercial properties
by sending FOIs to every police authority in England and Wales. What
follows is my submission to ICO and to the Information Tribunal in various
cases over the past few years. Apologies if it seems pedantic, but it is
critical that we have a common set of probabilistic definitions.

Vacancies form a small proportion of any commercial property base. Vacancy
rates vary from as little as 2.6% in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, to
19.4% in the West Midlands.

Assuming that crime is evenly distributed (i.e. that an occupied
commercial property is as likely to experience crime as an unoccupied
property), for a vacancy rate of 10% you would expect a ratio of 9 crimes
in occupied properties for each crime in an unoccupied property (ratio of
9:1).

In a street of 10 commercial properties, if 10 crimes were committed, and
every property had an equal chance of being affected, then – all things
being equal – each property, vacant or not, would experience one crime.
That is the definition of “equal probability”, any property – irrespective
of occupation state – is at the same risk.

Therefore, if we know the absolute number of property-related crimes, we
can estimate a predicted number of crimes for both occupied and vacant
properties. If the real data reveals more crime than predicted we have a
positive correlation for increased risk; if the real data reveals the
opposite, less crime than predicted, we have a negative correlation for
increased risk.

According to UK Crime Stats
([3]https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...)
Hartlepool experiences the following level of crime between October 2018
and September 2019 relating to Burglary + Criminal damage & arson +
Robbery + Shoplifting = 4,199.

The ratio of 10 to 1 implies that, if there were 4,199 commercial
property-related crimes, an average of 420 of these types of crimes would
have been committed in vacant properties between October 2018 and
September 2019.

Compare your data and offer some evidence as to why you believe you are
experiencing a greater-than-expected level of crime in vacant commercial
properties.

It is insufficient to simply produce evidence that crime occurs in vacant
properties. It is necessary to produce evidence demonstrating that vacancy
property crime occurs at a rate higher than expected. I do not believe
that you have done so; or could.

I requested statistics on crimes by vacancy status from Cleveland Police
in March 2016. These data are not aggregated and Cleveland Police were
unable to comply unless I was willing to pay to have them go back through
each written crime report and extract that data manually, if it existed at
all
([4]https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...).
If Cleveland Police have no data, then Hartlepool has no data.

If you have data that supports crime levels in vacant properties
significantly in excess of what is expected per year, then we can assess
whether or not vacant properties are at greater risk to crime. Note,
however, greater risk does not identify the cause of that risk. I imagine
that this would be of interest?

When I started my research in early 2016, 70 out of 348 local authorities
were already regularly publishing their vacancy data to their open data
websites. However, 66 local authorities in England and Wales refused to
publish citing the risk of such data being used to commit crime. Their
justifications cited previous findings by the Information Tribunal (such
as Mr. Yiannis Voyias v the Information Commissioner and Camden
EA/2011/0007) to validate their decisions.

They did not conduct their own risk assessments, they simply used Voyias
as justification. 

During 2016, I sent FOI requests to all police services across England and
Wales requesting total number of incidents of criminal activity in empty
commercial properties. At the time, I had secured 66% of vacancy data from
local authorities through FOI requests, and direct access.

The combination of crime incident data and the list of local authorities
would permit easy comparison between areas that regularly disclose and
those which choose not to in order to assess whether there is a greater
risk as a result of disclosure.

Out of 44 police services, only two were able to provide data on incidents
in empty commercial properties. The remaining police services do not
specifically collect such data and have no way of knowing what the
incident rates are.

The two who have are Thames Valley Police and North Wales Police. If a
relevant police authority is advising you on a Section 31(1)(a) exemption,
then - unless they are either of these - they do not have data to validate
their opinion.

There are about 45,000 commercial properties in North Wales and vacancies
are about 8%, leading to an expected crime ratio of 12:1. North Wales
Police state that there are an average of 1,780 crimes a year in occupied
properties, and 26 crimes a year in unoccupied properties that largely
have to do with theft, vandalism or arson (note that squatting in
commercial property is not a crime and so unrecorded).

The total of 1,806 implies the expected number of vacant property crime
incidents to be 71; 270% higher than the actual 26 recorded.

In other words, there is a large negative correlation between crimes
committed in vacant properties relative to what was expected. A vacant
property is less likely to experience crime.

This tells us that crime in empty commercial premises is extremely rare,
and explains why most police services do not bother routinely aggregating
such data.

The data from the Thames Valley police gives us a better idea of the
variation between authorities which publish, and those which don’t.

For example, in 2015 Oxford had 4,038 commercial properties and suffered 2
cases of empty commercial property crime at a cost of £1,259. In
comparison, they had 3,133 cases of crime committed in occupied business
premises, at a cost of £507,956.

By comparison, Reading, with 5,659 commercial properties suffered 2 empty
commercial property crimes that caused no damage at all.

Oxford refuses to publish under Section 31(1)(a) while Reading publishes
regularly.

In total, across the Thames Valley, for 74,027 properties - of which about
7,000 are empty (9.5%) - only 11 crimes related to empty properties were
recorded. Compare that to occupied and actively-traded properties which
experienced 29,946 reported crimes.

For an approximate 9:1 vacancy ratio, and 30,000 crimes, you would expect
3,000 vacant property crimes. 11 is a statistical rounding error. Crime in
vacant properties is not a meaningful risk.

The Thames Valley data are
here: [5]https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...

And the North Wales Police data are
here: [6]https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...

In two distinct parts of the UK, with different approaches to recording
crime, empty property crime is extremely rare, and – more importantly for
publication considerations –  publication of data listing empty properties
does not have any impact on the number of incidents of crime.

Some local authorities who claim exemption under Section 31(1)(a) claim to
have their own data to validate these claims. I sent FOIs requesting these
data to 64 local authorities (including both those who do publish empty
property data, and those who do not). Not one has any data - other than
very sparse anecdotal data to support their claim.

All the data I collected indicates that there is no substantive basis for
concern that publishing a list of empty properties will lead to prejudice
under Section 31.

In November 2016, I appealed this class of refusal – using this evidence –
to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

My central argument was that, in order to justify a Section 31(1)(a)
exemption it is not sufficient simply to claim that crime occurs in empty
commercial premises. Neither should anecdotal tales suffice. It is also
necessary to provide evidence that publishing a list of empty properties
in real, measurable terms increases the expected incidence rate for crime
in such properties.

My submissions to ICO resulted in the following findings in my favour:

FS50628943 vs Cornwall Council; citing Section 31(1)(a);

FS50628978 vs London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council; citing
Section 31(1)(a);

FS50681246 vs London Borough of Camden; citing Section 31(1)(a);

FS50681250 vs London Borough of Greenwich; citing Section 31(1)(a) and
Section 38(1)(b);

FS50681266 vs Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames Borough; citing
Section 31(1)(a);

FS50681283 vs Westminster City Council who cited Section 31(1)(a);

FS50681292 vs London Borough of Wandsworth; citing Section 31(1)(a);

FS50681297 vs Knowsley Metropolitan Borough; citing Section 31(1)(a),
40(2), and 41;

FS50681322 vs West Berkshire Council; citing Section 31(1)(d);

FS50681326 vs Vale of Glamorgan; citing Section 31(1)(a);

FS50681332 vs Doncaster Metropolitan Borough; citing Section 31(1)(a);

FS50681336 vs Sheffield City Council; citing Section 31(1)(a), 31(1)(d),
and 41;

FS50685343 vs London Borough of Ealing; citing Section 31(1)(a), 31(1)(d),
and 31(2);

FS50685350 vs Liverpool City Council; citing Section 31(1)(a);

FS50685375 vs West Lancashire Borough Council; citing 31(1)(a);

In each of these decisions, the Commissioner either dismissed the
application of the exemptions cited, or declared that “the public interest
in the information being disclosed outweighs that in the exemption being
maintained”.

Any claim in support of Section 31(1)(a) must also consider the public
interest in the data requested.

In support of public interest, I offer that 96% of 348 local authorities
in England and Wales now publish commercial vacancy data. 71% publish
these as regular updates to their authority websites or open data
services.

Retail and commercial vacancy, and its impact on commercial rates continue
to be of great public interest (cf, as a small example, “City figures warn
high street landlords face ‘tsunami’ of
pressures” [7]https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...,
“After the retail apocalypse, what next for the high
street?” [8]https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...,
“An investigation of the impact of 2017 business rates revaluation on
independent high street retailers in the north of
England” [9]https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...).

These claims of a ‘retail apocalypse’ are having a very real impact on the
capacity for local authorities to collect commercial rates. Most recently,
Debenhams – the department store chain – has demanded business rates cuts
to support their viability
([10]https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...).
It is critical that researchers have the data to test such claims, both
now, and over time, in order to ensure that it is possible to
differentiate between poor individual business management, and general
economic difficulties.

I ask that you reconsider your refusal, and publish. Failing that, I will
refer this matter to ICO for further review. 

 

Findings 

 

I apologise for the delay in responding to your request for an internal
review. As part of this Internal Review I have reconsidered your original
Request for Information and the Council’s response. In Andrew Heap’s
response he informed you that “at some point the decision will be reviewed
and publication may recommence at the link provided above”. I would inform
you that the decision has been reviewed and that the Council has now
decided that the time is right to recommence providing the information on
the following link: 

 

[11]https://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/20001...

 

The link will be activated shortly, but in the meantime I attach a copy of
the information that you requested. 

 

This response constitutes the Council’s response to the internal review of
your request for information. If you are not satisfied with the outcome of
this internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the
Information Commissioner for a decision. 

 

The information Commissioner can be contacted at: 

 

Information Commissioner's Office  

Wycliffe House  

Water Lane  

Wilmslow  

Cheshire  

SK9 5AF  

 

Telephone: 01625 545 745 

www.ico.org.uk 

 

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications about this matter. 

 

Yours sincerely, 

 

 

Charles Metcalf 

Head of Corporate Revenues 

 

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

References

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1. http://www.voa.gov.uk/
2. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
3. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
4. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
5. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
6. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
7. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
8. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
9. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
10. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
11. https://eur03.safelinks.protection.outlo...
12. http://www.manchester.gov.uk/emaildiscla...
13. http://www.manchester.gov.uk/privacy