Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data (Data Quality, Q2 2019)

The request was refused by Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council.

Dear Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council,

I am aware that you already publish data https://www.hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk/inf... which mostly answers this request, however the occupation status (occupied/void) is not included.

Please could you correct this and provide an updated version of your data.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

Faye Biddles, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council

Dear Mr Chait,

 

Re: Freedom of Information request. Our ref: 5754

I acknowledge your request for information received on 22 July 2019.

 

Your request is being considered and you will receive a response within
the statutory timescale of 20 working days as defined by the Freedom of
Information Act 2000.

 

If appropriate, the information may be provided in paper copy. If you
require alternative formats, for example: language, audio or large print,
please let me know.

 

For your information, the Act defines a number of exemptions which may
prevent release of the information you have requested. There will be an
assessment and if any of the exemption categories apply then the
information will not be released. You will be informed if this is the
case, including your rights of appeal.

 

Kind regards

 

Faye Biddles

Information Governance Officer

Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council

Hinckley Hub, Rugby Road, Hinckley, LE10 0FR

Telephone: 01455 255745

Email: [1][email address]  

 

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References

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Faye Biddles, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Chait,

 

Please see attached our response to your request.

 

Kind regards

 

Faye Biddles

Information Governance Officer

Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council

Hinckley Hub, Rugby Road, Hinckley, LE10 0FR

Telephone: 01455 255745

Email: [1][email address]

 

 

This email and any files sent with it are confidential.
If this email isn't intended for you, please notify the sender immediately
and then permanently delete it.
You must not read, print, store, disclose, copy or take any other action
in respect of this email.
 
We routinely monitor incoming and outgoing email messages to ensure they
comply with Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council's policy on the use of
electronic communications.
The contents of emails may have to be disclosed to a request under the
Data Protection Act 2018, Freedom of Information Act 2000 and/or the
Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
The views expressed by the author may not necessarily reflect the views or
policies of Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council.
Attachments to email messages may contain viruses that may damage your
system.
Whilst Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council has taken every reasonable
precaution to minimise this risk, we cannot accept any liability for any
damage you suffer as a result.
You are advised to carry out your own virus checks before opening any
attachment.
Save paper - only print this email if necessary.
Visit us online: www.hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk
Main office: Hinckley Hub, Rugby Road, Hinckley, Leics LE10 0FR. Main
switchboard: 01455 238141

References

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1. mailto:[email address]

Dear Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council's handling of my FOI request 'Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data (Data Quality, Q2 2019)'.

On 20 July 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".

I have prepared 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.

Crime in commercial property
============================

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://ukcrimestats.com/Subdivisions/DI...) Hinckley and Bosworth experiences the following level of crime July 2018 to June 2019 relating to Burglary + Criminal damage & arson + Robbery + Shoplifting = 2,703.

Your assessed vacancy rate of 4.5% implies, if there were 2,703 commercial property-related crimes, an average of 121 of these types of crimes would have been committed in vacant properties between July 2018 and June 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 Leicestershire Constabulary in March 2016. These data are not aggregated and Leicestershire Constabulary 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 Leicestershire Constabulary have no data, then Hinckley and Bosworth 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.

Homelessness and commercial property
====================================

Based on the six quarters of data you have released, I can indicate vacant address data. Hinckley and Bosworth has 2,723 commercial hereditaments, of which:

- 1,160 are Industrial, of which 3.3% are vacant;
- 473 are Offices, of which 8.9% are vacant;
- 137 are Leisure, of which 2.2% are vacant;
- 953 are Retail, of which 3.9% are vacant;

There are about 120 vacant hereditaments (according to their last filing with me). Without ignoring the risk of crime, or stating it is non-existent, this must be placed in context. According to your previous data releases, many of Hinckley and Bosworth’s commercial vacancies - particularly in office space - are long-term and entrenched, being vacant for over a year. Availability of the data are unlikely to be responsible for anyone finding those vacancies and squatting.

Secondly, Hinckley and Bosworth has provided no data to define why this is a problem. Incidents of squatting are extremely low relative to the number of homeless people in the UK, and in comparison to the exceptionally high vacancy rate. By and large, homeless people obey the law and don’t simply enter vacant premises, no matter how long they have been vacant.

Squatters’ Action For Secure Homes (SQUASH) conducts research into incidents of squatting and produce an annual report based on FOI requests. Their May 2016 report is available here: http://www.squashcampaign.org/repeal-law... and here http://squashcampaign.org/docs/Squatting....

Their data are focused on people sentenced under Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act which came into effect in September 2012. They state: “Since 2012, there have been at least 738 arrests, 326 prosecutions, 260 convictions and 11 people imprisoned for the offence, based on available information.”

They further state that “Arrests for section 144 have been averaging around 160 arrests per year.”

In the data aggregations, “s144 Arrests” are the number of people arrested, while “Squat CRI” is the Crime Related Incident that gave rise to the arrest (i.e. multiple people could be arrested in a single incident, or a reported incident could give rise to no arrests).

For the East Midlands (the region where Hinckley and Bosworth falls) has about 2 incidents of squatting per year, with 9 s144 arrests. This would happen regardless. That was data from 2016. Since then, the homeless rate has risen precipitously. Shelter’s 2018 report indicates some 320,000 people are now homeless across the UK (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018...). The government’s own data indicate 4,677 rough sleepers across the country (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistica...).

In such a state, it is inevitable that incidents of squatting will take place. What is not proven, however, is that such incidents have anything whatsoever to do with the publication of ratepayer data.

ICO decisions specific to my requests
=====================================

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 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

Faye Biddles, Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Chait,

 

Please see attached our response to your internal appeal.

 

Kind regards

 

Faye Biddles

Information Governance Officer

Ext: 5745 Email: [email address]  

 

 

This email and any files sent with it are confidential.
If this email isn't intended for you, please notify the sender immediately
and then permanently delete it.
You must not read, print, store, disclose, copy or take any other action
in respect of this email.
 
We routinely monitor incoming and outgoing email messages to ensure they
comply with Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council's policy on the use of
electronic communications.
The contents of emails may have to be disclosed to a request under the
Data Protection Act 2018, Freedom of Information Act 2000 and/or the
Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
The views expressed by the author may not necessarily reflect the views or
policies of Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council.
Attachments to email messages may contain viruses that may damage your
system.
Whilst Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council has taken every reasonable
precaution to minimise this risk, we cannot accept any liability for any
damage you suffer as a result.
You are advised to carry out your own virus checks before opening any
attachment.
Save paper - only print this email if necessary.
Visit us online: www.hinckley-bosworth.gov.uk
Main office: Hinckley Hub, Rugby Road, Hinckley, Leics LE10 0FR. Main
switchboard: 01455 238141