Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data

Gavin Chait made this Rhyddid Gwybodaeth request to Wakefield City Council as part of a batch sent to 55 authorities

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

Roedd y cais yn rhannol lwyddiannus.

Dear Wakefield City Council,

In terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, could you please provide me with a complete and up-to-date list of all business (non-residential) property rates data for your local authority, and including the following fields:

- Billing Authority Code
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupied / Vacant
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds)

I am aware that you already do provide listings of some business rates data (such as credit balances, or those receiving rates relief) but the existing data does not state whether properties are occupied or vacant (whether relief is received or not). It is also critical that the Billing Authority Code be provided for each property otherwise I am unable to reconcile your data with the Valuations Office master list.

I appreciate that properties owned / rented by individuals are personal information and such personal data (i.e. the Firm's Trading Name) would be excluded from my request in terms of Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In such cases, please provide the remaining information with the Firm's Trading Name either blank or listed as 'individual'.

Please provide this as machine-readable as either a CSV or Microsoft Excel file, capable of re-use, and under terms of the Open Government Licence.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

Records, Wakefield City Council

Dear Mr Chait,

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 - REQUEST FOR INFORMATION

Thank you for your letter requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 which we received on 15th of March 2016. It is our intention to have the response delivered to you by 14th of April 2016.

I would like to inform you that all requests submitted under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 might be subject to exemption(s), which the Authority is entitled to apply to refuse the request.

In some cases the Authority may also ask that a fee be paid for processing and delivering the information to you. Details of any fee to be charged, if applicable, will be notified to you as soon as possible.

Any future correspondence you may have in relation to this matter should be marked Private & Confidential and sent to the Freedom of Information Officer, Information Management Team, Civic Centre, Castleford WF10 4JH or e-mailed to [Wakefield City Council request email].

Yours sincerely

Information Governance Officer
Information Management Team
City Solicitor’s Office
Wakefield MDC, Civic Centre, Ferrybridge Road, Castleford, WF10 4JH.
Email: [Wakefield City Council request email]
Tel: 01977 727170

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freedomofinformation, Wakefield City Council

Dear Mr Chait

Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Request for Information

I am writing in respect of your recent enquiry for information held by the Authority under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Please find the response to your request attached. Please note that we do not provide reference numbers as they are unique to the ratepayer and used as a security tool and that the annual rates payable is not in a retrievable field.

Whilst the Council makes no inference as to why the information has been requested, it believes that to release addresses of empty properties into the public domain would increase the likelihood of these properties falling victim to crime and anti-social behaviour.

The Council has particular regard for:
• Squatting
• Stripping, where the properties are targeted by criminals who remove all metals/wiring and sell it for scrap
• Vandalism

This part of the request is therefore refused under S31 of the Act.

If you are unhappy with the way the authority has handled your request, you may ask for an internal review. Please contact the Council’s Freedom of Information Officer, Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, Information Management, Room 115, County Hall, Bond Street, Wakefield, WF1 2QW, who will arrange an internal review of your case.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow SK9 5AF.

Principal Information Governance Officer
Corporate Information Governance Team
City Solicitor’s Office
Wakefield MDC
Tel: 01977 727170
E-mail: [email address]

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Dear Wakefield City Council,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Wakefield City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data'.

On 15 March 2016, 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 Code
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupied / Vacant
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds)

My request has been refused in terms of Section 31(1)(a). According to the Information Commissioners 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".

A property being empty may well lead to it being more likely to suffer potential criminal activity, but it does not automatically follow that publishing a list of empty properties in any way changes that potential.

Empty premises will be known to residents of the community in which they are based, or they are advertised as part of a lettings offer. In other words, these are properties of which many people will be clearly aware are empty whether the local authority data are publicly available or not.

In addition, I have run - in parallel with this request - a series of FOI requests to a sample of local authorities and to all police services across England and Wales requesting total number of incidents of criminal activity in empty commercial properties. Such data 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. Of the 350 local authorities in England and Wales, more than 59% of these either already make empty property data available, or have done so in response to FOI requests from ourselves.

To date, no local authorities or police services have produced such data and it appears that no such data are collated. The only data (very sparsely collected) by local authorities about incidents of crime in council-owned commercial premises indicates that no such crime is recorded, even in local authorities where details of empty properties are regularly published.

It is very difficult to substantiate a Section 31 refusal if you have no data to validate your concern. If police do not collect such data, any opinion they may offer is not based on any objective quantitative analysis.

In other words, there is no substantive basis for concern that publishing a list of empty properties will lead to prejudice under Section 31.

In terms of Public Interest, the purpose of our use of the data requested is in informing entrepreneurs and business seekers about opportunities in empty premises when they are advertised for new tenants. We combine local authority premises occupation data with other data (from the Valuations Office and ONS) to develop forward guidance on business potential in each empty business property. Further details on our activities are available at http://pikhaya.com, but our activity is supported by the Open Data Institute and we have received funding from the EU Open Data Incubator to develop this service.

Our combined data are made available via online commercial property leasing intermediaries as a free service to business seekers. These leasing intermediaries combine our data with properties being offered for rent.

We are mindful, though, that not all authorities wish to release direct information on empty premises. In that case, could we suggest that you provide only a list of occupied properties which we would then reconcile against the master list of properties from the Valuations Office Agency (VOA). VOA data are available via their website, and the complete database by subscription. Empty premises will be known to residents of the community in which they are based. That means that anyone not resident in your community and wanting to find the list of empty properties would have to undertake the costs and technicalities of a similar data reconciliation.

I would ask that you consider that the public interest in economic development and improving opportunities for independent businesses and entrepreneurs far outweighs any concern that the release of data which can identify empty business properties may cause crime.

Unemployment and economic deprivation are often key to reducing the potential for crime. Our intention is to support local economic development initiatives through the use of these data.

I ask that you reconsider your decision and make this data available to us under terms which permit our use thereof.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/c...

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

freedomofinformation, Wakefield City Council

Dear Mr Chait,

Thank you for your email dated 13th April 2016.

This has been referred for Internal review in accordance with the Council’s internal FOI review / appeals procedure and you will be informed of the decision in due course which is usually 20 working days subject to availability of the panel members.

Yours sincerely

Senior Information Governance Officer
Information Governance Team
City Solicitor’s Office
Wakefield MDC
Tel: 01977 727170
E-mail: [Wakefield City Council request email]

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

freedomofinformation, Wakefield City Council

1 Atodiad

Dear Mr Chait,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Request for Information - Review

I am writing to inform you of the decision of the FOI Review Panel undertaken by myself and Mathew Sorby, Principal Contracts and Commercial Solicitor. The review has been carried out in accordance with the Council’s procedure for considering reviews and appeals of the decisions made under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I would like to confirm that neither Mr Sorby nor I were party to an initial decision. The purpose of the review process is to make an independent assessment of the application. We were guided by the decisions made by the Information Commissioner’s Office as well as their guidance on this issue.

A chronology of your request is set out below.

Your request (dated 15th March, 2016) was as follows:

'Dear Wakefield City Council,

In terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, could you
please provide me with a complete and up-to-date list of all
business (non-residential) property rates data for your local
authority, and including the following fields:

- Billing Authority Code
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupied / Vacant
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds)

I am aware that you already do provide listings of some business
rates data (such as credit balances, or those receiving rates
relief) but the existing data does not state whether properties are
occupied or vacant (whether relief is received or not). It is also
critical that the Billing Authority Code be provided for each
property otherwise I am unable to reconcile your data with the
Valuations Office master list.

I appreciate that properties owned / rented by individuals are
personal information and such personal data (i.e. the Firm's
Trading Name) would be excluded from my request in terms of Section
40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In such cases, please
provide the remaining information with the Firm's Trading Name
either blank or listed as 'individual'.

Please provide this as machine-readable as either a CSV or
Microsoft Excel file, capable of re-use, and under terms of the
Open Government Licence.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait'

The Councils response (dated 13th April, 2016) was as follows:

'Dear Mr Chait,

Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Request for Information

I am writing in respect of your recent enquiry for information held by the Authority under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Please find the response to your request attached. Please note that we do not provide reference numbers as they are unique to the ratepayer and used as a security tool and that the annual rates payable is not in a retrievable field.

Whilst the Council makes no inference as to why the information has been requested, it believes that to release addresses of empty properties into the public domain would increase the likelihood of these properties falling victim to crime and anti-social behaviour.

The Council has particular regard for:
• Squatting
• Stripping, where the properties are targeted by criminals who remove all metals/wiring and sell it for scrap
• Vandalism

This part of the request is therefore refused under S31 of the Act.

If you are unhappy with the way the authority has handled your request, you may ask for an internal review. Please contact the Council’s Freedom of Information Officer, Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, Information Management, Room 115, County Hall, Bond Street, Wakefield, WF1 2QW, who will arrange an internal review of your case.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow SK9 5AF.

Principal Information Governance Officer, Corporate Information Governance Team, City Solicitor’s Office, Wakefield MDC.'

The Council relied on Section 31(1)(a): Information which is not exempt information by virtue of section 30 is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice - the prevention or detection of crime, to refuse part of your request.

The panel has therefore considered the application of this exemption in considering your appeal. Section 31 is a prejudice based exemption and is subject to the public interest test. This section states that information is exempt if its disclosure would, or would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime. Therefore to engage the exemption the authority has to be satisfied that the prejudice or harm that is specified in the exemption either would or would be likely to occur.

As stated in the refusal notice, it can reasonably be argued that to disclose the addresses of empty commercial properties into the public domain could make them vulnerable to criminal activity and anti-social behaviour. I draw your attention to the ICO Decision Notice, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, in which the ICO concluded it was not in the public interest to disclose information that aided individuals to commit crimes. He therefore concluded that the public interest in maintaining the section 31 exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing the addresses of the empty properties. It was evidenced by Stoke-on-Trent City Council that actual harm had occurred and supporting evidence of this was provided to the ICO.

https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-tak...

In considering the public interest for disclosure of the information, the panel has considered the points you raised in your request for an internal review.

It is agreed that disclosing information about empty commercial properties could assist in bringing properties back into use, which would be in the financial and commercial interest of the public. This would also help inform the public about the types of properties available and applicable business rates. Therefore this information could be used for the purposes of local regeneration.

In accordance with section 31, the panel has carefully considered the likelihood of harm actually occurring or being likely to occur. It has also considered the requirement under section 31 to demonstrate a causal link between the disclosure of the information and the risk of harm. Therefore the release of information resulting in a real or significant risk to the empty properties. The panel has concluded that the demonstrated risk is not evidenced. Therefore we have decided, on balance, it is in the public interest to disclose the information you requested in regard to empty business properties. Please find this attached, I hope this now satisfies your request.

Yours sincerely

M E Ogden
Service Manager, Legal
City Solicitor’s Office
Email: [email address]

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Gadawodd Gareth Elton anodiad ()

Great! Now if only they would provide property references so this data could be used!

Dear freedomofinformation,

Thank you very much for you internal review and for providing the requested data.

My original data request included a requirement for the property reference code (or billing authority reference) for each property, which links your data to that of the Valuations Office Agency. This will permit me to reconcile your data with theirs.

The data provided does not include this. Are you able to update and provide it?

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Chait

freedomofinformation, Wakefield City Council

Dear Mr Chait,

Further to your enquiry, I can advise that the Council does not use these codes.

Therefore we do not hold this information.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further queries regarding this matter.

Yours sincerely

Senior Information Governance Officer
Information Governance Team
City Solicitor’s Office
Wakefield MDC
Tel: 01924 306112
Email: [Wakefield City Council request email]

dangos adrannau a ddyfynnir

Dear freedomofinformation,

You say you do not have the billing reference codes from the Valuations Office. However, obviously you are able to reconcile the Valuations Office rateable value to your rates list to be able to calculate the rates charges. The UARN or billing reference codes will be your only way of doing so.

How do you normally do that reconciliation?

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Chait

freedomofinformation, Wakefield City Council

Dear Mr Chait,

Having referred your query to the relevant department, we have received the following response;

Our Business Rates reference numbers are similar to the Rating List reference numbers and reconciliations are done using these.

We trust that this is satisfactory for your purposes.

Yours sincerely

Senior Information Governance Officer
Information Governance Team
City Solicitor’s Office
Wakefield MDC
Tel: 01924 306112
Email: [Wakefield City Council request email]

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Gadawodd Gareth Elton anodiad ()

So... can we get these 'similar' numbers?

Dear freedomofinformation,

Could you then include the "Business Rates reference numbers" in the data release so that we are able to cross-reference them against the VOA list?

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Chait

freedomofinformation, Wakefield City Council

Dear Mr Chait,

In an attempt to try and finalise this matter for you, we have contacted the department who supplied us with the information and asked them to provide a definitive answer to your queries.

They believe that some confusion may have arisen relating to which reference numbers the Council actually holds.

They have clarified that, firstly, we do not hold any reference numbers or codes that are contained in the Local Rating List, even though the Valuation Office refers to them as "Billing Authority Reference Numbers". Secondly, our own reference number is unique to the ratepayer and is used as a security tool and will not directly correlate to any reference number in the Rating List. As our reference number is similar in its make up to Valuation Office' s this is only one criterion we use when balancing the Rating List. Also the balancing of the Rating List to our records is an internal procedural matter only.

We hope that the above clarifies the position for you, and are sorry that we are unable to assist you further.

Yours sincerely

Senior Information Governance Officer
Information Governance Team
City Solicitor’s Office
Wakefield MDC
Tel: 01924 306112

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