Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data (Q1-2019)

The request was successful.

Dear West Lindsey District 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 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 Property Reference Code (linking the property to the VOA database reference)
- 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)

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.

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 (meaning reuse for any and all purposes, including commercial).

I last requested this data three months ago, and this is a request for an updated and current dataset.

I'm sure you get many requests for business rates and responding and managing these FOIs must be costly for you. Could I request that - as 71% of local authorities now do - you update and release this dataset via a dedicated page on your local authority website or on an open data service. I can recommend approaches for you to consider, and you should find that this reduces the time and cost of this request process.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

WL - FOI, West Lindsey District Council

8 Attachments

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your request for information received on 03/04/2019.

Your request is now being considered and you will receive the information
within the statutory 20 working days as defined by the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, subject to the information not being exempt or
containing a reference to a third party.

Please note that the response time to this request will expire on
03/05/2019

Yours sincerely

 

[1][IMG]Kind Regards
FOI Office

 

01427 676585

 

 

Guildhall | Marshalls Yard | Gainsborough | Lincolnshire | DN21 2NA

 

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WL - FOI, West Lindsey District Council

10 Attachments

Dear Sir/Madam,

 

Please find attached our response to FOI 0246.

 

Yours sincerely

 

[1][IMG]Kind Regards
FOI Office

 

01427 676585

 

 

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Dear WL - FOI,

Thank you for providing me your data. However, the occupancy status of each property (occupied/void) is not included. Please could you correct this and provide an updated version of your data.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Chait

WL - FOI, West Lindsey District Council

8 Attachments

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your request for information received on 29/04/2019.

Your request is now being considered and you will receive the information
within the statutory 20 working days as defined by the Freedom of
Information Act 2000, subject to the information not being exempt or
containing a reference to a third party.

Please note that the response time to this request will expire on
29/05/2019

Yours sincerely

 

[1][IMG]Kind Regards
FOI Office

 

01427 676585

 

 

Guildhall | Marshalls Yard | Gainsborough | Lincolnshire | DN21 2NA

 

[2][IMG] [3][IMG] [4][IMG]

[5]WLDC INFORMATION & GOVERNANCE

WLDC MAKE A FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST

[6]INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE

 

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WL - FOI, West Lindsey District Council

9 Attachments

Dear Sir,

 

Please find attached our response to FOI 0300.

 

Yours sincerely

 

[1][IMG]Kind Regards
FOI Office

 

01427 676585

 

 

Guildhall | Marshalls Yard | Gainsborough | Lincolnshire | DN21 2NA

 

[2][IMG] [3][IMG] [4][IMG]

[5]WLDC INFORMATION & GOVERNANCE

WLDC MAKE A FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST

[6]INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE

 

[7]Sign up to our digital newsletter

 

 

 

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Dear West Lindsey District Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of West Lindsey District Council's handling of my FOI request 'Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data (Q1-2019)'.

On 3 April 2019, 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 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 state that you are at risk to rates rebate or identity theft fraud as a result of the data I have requested. You should know that I have appealed this specific class of refusal to ICO on multiple times.

Given the amounts which the Council states are at risk it should be acceptable to you that any Adversary attempting such fraud would not be deterred by relatively minor costs in time or money of gathering relevant information to pursue their fraud.

To be absolutely clear: if the Authority believes that it is at risk to fraud owing to the large amounts at risk, they should also be willing to believe that such Adversaries would be prepared to spend significant sums in the pursuit of such activity.

Data-gathering is expensive, but it is not a particularly significant obstacle.

- Ratepayers address list: Valuations Office Authority publishes a regularly-updated schedule of all ratepayers and valuations at https://voaratinglists.blob.core.windows... including addresses and billing-authority reference numbers, as well as weekly valuations changes updates. This also includes a data schedule which - while not complete - contains a significant proportion of names of ratepayers and dates of occupation;
- Company records and directors: Companies House provides developer tools and search facilities on all company information in the UK, including address, company activity, and financial disclosure, https://www.gov.uk/get-information-about...

These two databases can be collated and linked together with relatively little effort. Google searches based on addresses will usually – especially for larger companies – return the name and website for companies based there. Google Maps will show you what they look like.

Since it is difficult to commit rates rebate fraud en masse, it is a valid assumption that any Adversary would select target companies from the authority area individually.

For the moment, I am taking as given that the data I have requested is necessary and sufficient to commit fraud as described by the authority. To prove the simplicity of establishing these data without any call to FOI, I have conducted a data assessment of companies which have recently moved premises in your authority and may be due a rates refund subsequent to relocation.

Since this is a public forum, I will not publish here examples of this methodology, but it is compelling.

No publication by the authority was required for me to expose millions of pounds of potential refunds, and the vacancy data requested would make no difference at all to the threat from fraud.

Given that re-ratings assessment and publication is a semi-automatic process, it may be that a property occupant would not become aware of this revaluation (and any credits due) until such time as it is brought to their attention.

There are also numerous reliefs and exemptions which ratepayers may not be aware of, or fail to claim.

I have not considered any of these forms of data in my examples for the simple reason that I have not requested any of these data. I have requested vacancies, however.

Given how straightforward it is for an Adversary to recreate the data I requested when targeting high-value companies, and how much other – far more relevant and important data are already public – I cannot see how publishing vacancy data would change the authority's threat risk in any way.

Here I must be absolutely clear about what I have not requested:

- I have not requested the property occupant’s confidential ratepayer customer number;
- I have not requested the credit value due to each ratepayer;
- I have not requested any information on revaluation of the property;

I have worked through my analysis accepting – until this point – that the authority's declaration that the data I did request are sufficient to commit fraud is valid.

That does not appear to be a justified assumption.

I contacted a number of operational security professionals and researchers to ascertain their opinion of Council's claimed security, forwarding on all correspondence. Their response was consistent, best summarised by Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at the Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge:

"Any council that will mail me a cheque for £7326 just because I know that Fido's Pet Groomers has overpaid their rates by that amount is grossly negligent. If they're even halfways competent they will insist on only paying refunds to the same account from which was made in the first case."

I contacted 14 local authorities, making an FOI request for their specific authentication processes for validating commercial ratepayer identity:

Birmingham City Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Brighton and Hove City Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Bristol City Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Cambridge City Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
City of London https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
City of York Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Croydon Borough Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Leeds City Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Milton Keynes Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
North Warwickshire Borough Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Nottingham City Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Reading Borough Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Redbridge Borough Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...
Westminster City Council https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/v...

In practice, in order to process a rebate, anyone acting as an appointed Agent for a commercial ratepayer falling within an authority would need:

- The Customer Number, which has not been requested on my FOI, nor is it published anywhere publicly. Without a Customer Number the Council will not discuss specific account details of the Ratepayer.
- The exact amount of the rebate which can be difficult for the Agent to obtain from the Council without written authority from the Ratepayer. This figure is one that has to be agreed by the Council and can't therefore be accurately pre-determined from the rates paid figure. I did not request this number.
- The registered bank account for the Ratepayer - furthermore even acting as an appointed Agent you would not be able to specify a different bank account for receipt of any refund, without written authority from the Ratepayer.
- To act as an Agent for a registered Ratepayer some form of confirmation, in writing, is required from the Ratepayer when discussing specific account / payment details, rather than general Ratepayer information, before the Council will engage with you.

In other words: none of the information I requested form part of the authentication process.

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 95% 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.

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

WL - FOI, West Lindsey District Council

8 Attachments

Link: [1]File-List
Link: [2]Edit-Time-Data

Dear Sir

Thank you for your request for internal review received on 10/05/2019.

Your request is now being considered and you will receive the information
within the statutory 40 working days as defined by the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 subject to our internal review.

 

Please note that the response time to this request will expire on
08/07/2019

 

Yours sincerely

 

[3][IMG]Kind Regards
FOI Office

 

01427 676585

 

 

Guildhall | Marshalls Yard | Gainsborough | Lincolnshire | DN21 2NA

 

[4][IMG] [5][IMG] [6][IMG]

[7]WLDC INFORMATION & GOVERNANCE

WLDC MAKE A FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST

[8]INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE

 

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WL - FOI, West Lindsey District Council

10 Attachments

Link: [1]File-List
Link: [2]Edit-Time-Data

Dear Sir,

 

Please find attached our response to your request for internal review.

 

Yours sincerely

 

[3][IMG]Kind Regards
FOI Office

 

01427 676585

 

 

Guildhall | Marshalls Yard | Gainsborough | Lincolnshire | DN21 2NA

 

[4][IMG] [5][IMG] [6][IMG]

[7]WLDC INFORMATION & GOVERNANCE

WLDC MAKE A FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST

[8]INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE

 

[9]Sign up to our digital newsletter

 

 

 

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WL - FOI, West Lindsey District Council

10 Attachments

Link: [1]File-List
Link: [2]Edit-Time-Data

Dear Sir,

 

Please find attached our response to FOI 0395 ICO Case review FS50845850
regarding FOI 0322.

 

Yours sincerely

 

[3][IMG]Kind Regards
FOI Office

 

01427 676585

 

 

Guildhall | Marshalls Yard | Gainsborough | Lincolnshire | DN21 2NA

 

[4][IMG] [5][IMG] [6][IMG]

[7]WLDC INFORMATION & GOVERNANCE

WLDC MAKE A FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST

[8]INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE

 

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