Commercial and Financial Management
What do they know
Westminster City Council
64 Victoria Street
0207 641 3921
24 July 2019
Dear M Doyle Freedom of Information Act 2000
Thank you for your recent Freedom of Information request. You asked to be provided
with the following information: Dear Westminster City Council,
Under the FOIA would you kindly supply the following information relating to vacant
commercial properties in the borough It is understood that section 31 could
potentially be applied however, by redacting the name of building and or first line
address should alleviate the necessity. In essence supply the postcode, building
type/category, ratable value, rates payable, outstanding rates, period empty, owner,
etc Only information which constitutes a breach of the GDPR/DPA should be
redacted but not all information.
If you require any clarification, please revert
M Doyle Response
In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 this letter acts as a Refusal
Notice, as the Council has determined that you should not be provided with the
information that you have requested, namely the list of all vacant commercial
properties in the borough.
This decision has been made under Section 31 of the Data Protection Act (the
prevention or detection of crime).
The Council holds detailed financial information relating to the NNDR account
holders and by confirming the above data items the Council is opening itself up to
fraudulent activity. When dealing with enquiries about a particular account, the
Council has only limited ways of ensuring that the person who contacts the Council
is actually authorised to discuss and deal with the account. In most cases the
enquirer can be asked to confirm the account reference number, however where that
is not available other information can be checked, such as the name of the account
holder the period of liability and the occupation status of the property.
By providing information such as the name of the occupier and the period of
occupation to the “world at large” the Council’s ability to protect any confidential
information, such as bank account details or other financial information would be
significantly decreased. The Council would also be significantly increasing the risk of
fraudulent activity, including fraudulent applications for NNDR refunds (Information
Commissioner’s decision FS50611895). The cost of fraud perpetrated against the
Council will fall as a cost to the Council and ultimately a cost to all of our residents. It
is therefore the Council’s view that Section 31 of the Freedom of Information Act
applies to this request.
In relation to putting the addresses of empty properties (whether owned corporately
or by individuals) into the public domain, it is in the Council’s view that such actions
would compromise the security of the buildings concerned and would prejudice the
objectives of preventing criminal behaviour. We consider there is significant risk that
releasing details of empty properties might lead to burglary, arson, vandalism and
other criminal activity.
We have also previously consulted with the Metropolitan Police and they have
confirmed that the release of this type of information, would, in the police’s view,
increase the potential for the properties to be targeted by squatters, criminals or
terrorists and therefore increase the risk of theft, vandalism and terrorism.
It should be noted that the Freedom of Information Act does not allow the Council to
enquire as to the FOI requestor’s motives, nor do we have any control over
distribution of the information once it is “released” into the public domain.
Section 31 is a qualified exemption to which the public interest test must be applied.
There are clear public interest considerations that weigh in favour of not disclosing
the information, as to do so would prejudice the objective of prevention of crime and
may increase the burden on the public purse. It is considered that these factors
significantly outweigh the benefits of disclosure.
I apologise that your request will not be met, however if you have any further
information needs in the future please do not hesitate to contact the City Council.
You have the right of appeal against the Council’s decision. If you wish to appeal,
please set out in writing your grounds of appeal and send to:
Information Management Team
64 Victoria Street
Should you still be dissatisfied with the outcome of any such complaint you have the
right to make a complaint to the Information Commissioner, pursuant to section 50 of
the Freedom of Information Act. The contact details are:
Information Commissioner's Office
Tel: 0303 123 1113 or 01625 54 57 45
Fax: 01625 524510Web: www.ico.org.uk
I will now close your request as of this date.
Westminster City Council