Business Rates - April

The request was refused by Gwynedd Council.

Richard roberts

Dear Gwynedd Council,

REQUEST FOR INFORMATION UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000.

In accordance with the provisions specified within the above Act I hereby request the following information.
All information requested relates to Business Rates.
This request for information falls within the parameters of the Act but if you require clarification on any of the points above or should you wish to discuss this further then please do not hesitate to contact me.
Required Information;- A list of all live business rates accounts with a 2017 list Rateable Value.
• Property Reference Number (also known as Billing Authority Reference Number) of the property on which the charge is made. Please note that this is not the Rate Demand or Rate Account Number.
• Current rateable value
• Account holder name
• Property address
• The billing address (where different to the property address), the contact telephone number and email address
• The date the current ratepayer became liable for the business rates – we do not require any historical account liability dates only the current ratepayers liability start date
• whether a property is empty or occupied
• Where a property is currently empty please provide the date the ratepayer became liable for empty rates
• Where there is an exemption on the account please provide the start and end date and type of exemption applied (e.g. listed building)
• Where there is a relief on the account please provide the date it was applied and the type of relief (e.g. Retail Discount)
• We do not require any personal information or sole traders.
Please provide the information in an electronic, spreadsheet format ideally excel. The Act requires that a response be provided within a period of 20 working days from the date hereof.

Yours faithfully,

Richard roberts

Rhyddid Gwybodaeth, Gwynedd Council

Dear Richard Roberts,

Freedom of Information (ref T16)

Thank you for your recent request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
In the light of the unprecedented challenges that Gwynedd Council are now facing during the Coronavirus (COVID – 19) pandemic.

Gwynedd Council will unfortunately be anticipating a delay in the processing of Freedom of Information Requests, this is due to resources being prioritised to face the pandemic.

We apologise for any inconveniences.
Your request has been passed to me to process and I can confirm that it has been logged under the reference number T16.

The Council may take up to 20 working days, from the date of receipt, to respond to your request. You should therefore receive the information you have requested, subject to the application of any exemptions permitted under the Act, by 11/05/2020.

If you require further information please contact me by emailing [email address].cymru by quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely,
Gwawr Owen

Rhyddid Gwybodaeth, Gwynedd Council

Dear Richard Roberts,

Freedom of Information (ref T16)

Thank you for your recent request.

Your request has been considered and it has been decided that the information you require is exempt under Sections 31 and 43 of the Freedom of Information Act. It is important to emphasise that any response given under the Freedom of Information Act is to be taken as a response into the public domain and not merely to the applicant.

EXEMPTION
Section 43 Commercial interests

Your request is initially considered exempt from disclosure under Section 43 because financial details held on Business Rates accounts are considered commercially sensitive and would not be disclosed to a third party without an “Authority to Act” letter from the company or organisation concerned.

In addition to such a letter of authorisation, it is expected that the applicant would be in a position to provide details of the account that they are seeking to enquire about in the form of an account number or copy of a Business Rates document. This is no different to the way the Council would usually handle its day to day business. Where the letter of authorisation has not given specific authority for details of the company or organisation’s financial transactions with the Council, (including credits and debits), to be provided, it is not considered to be in the public interest to disclose such information to third parties.

Public Interest Arguments for Disclosure

Public Interest Arguments for Withholding information
•To encourage transparency in the Council’s decision making processes
•It allows transparency of decisions on how public funds are spent
•It is not in the public interest to potentially damage the commercial interests of a organisation seeking to do business with the Council
•The Council’s position in future procurement negotiations may be jeopardised if this information is released
•It would have a detrimental impact on companies / contractors ability seeking to do business with the council" should their credits or debits (i.e. financial transactions) are released in the public domain

The Council is of the view that releasing information without the appropriate “Authority to Act” letter could potentially be harmful to the commercial interests of the businesses concerned and so it has been deemed that the public interest in the non-disclosure of this information outweighs the public interest in its release. This is a qualified exemption.

EXEMPTION
Section 31: Prejudicial to law enforcement

The Council also holds the view that matters concerning Business Rates accounts are between the account holder and the Council. Disclosure of account information into the public domain is prohibited by Section 31(1)(a) and (d) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 as disclosure could prejudice the prevention and detection of crime and the assessment or collection of any tax or duty or any imposition of a similar nature.

Whilst your own reasons for requesting the information are not in question, the Council cannot be involved, however unwittingly, in any practice that could potentially result in the possibility of fraudulent claims being made for Business Rate reliefs, refunds or grants and it asserts that the provision of the information you have requested could make it much easier for the accurate issuance of reliefs, refunds or grants to become targeted for that purpose.

The Council will further refer to Information Commissioner’s Office decision FS50671834, Mr David Hunter v London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in which the Commissioner advises that the application of section 31(1)(a) was correctly applied when a request for such information on non domestic rates accounts was declined.

Public Interest Arguments for Disclosure

Public Interest Arguments for Withholding information
•To release the information would assist the general public interest in openness.
•Releasing the information would help the public understand, the Authority’s management of business rates credits
•There is a strong public interest in avoiding the likely prejudice to the prevention of crime.
•The public interest in avoiding damage to the reputation of property owners when seeking future credit;
•The council needs to effectively carry out its functions with businesses, and to rely on the utmost integrity and security.
•The risk of increased crime would likely occur if information relating to empty properties is released to the wider public.
•Releasing information would likely increase the risk of illegal entry and of illegal use if/when entered

The application of this exemption is also subject to a public interest test. The public interest is best served by not encouraging potential acts of fraud and crime. This is a qualified exemption.

Please note that where information is subject to copyright belonging to the Council, you will need to obtain the permission of the Council to re-use it for purposes other than private study or non-commercial research. The Council may charge for re-use. Where third party copyright material is disclosed, you must obtain permission to re-use from the copyright holders concerned.

Complaints

If you are unhappy with the way the Council has handled your request, you may ask for an internal review. Please contact me if you require an internal review of your case. An internal review will be conducted by the Monitoring Officer or Head of Service and we will aim to respond within 20 working days. However, if we are unable to complete the review by this date, we will advise you accordingly.

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. Please see below for the contact details:

Information Commissioner’s Office
2nd Floor
Churchill House
Churchill Way
Cardiff
CF102HH

Telephone: 02920 678400
Email: [email address]
Fax: 02920 678399

Yours sincerely,
Gwawr Owen