Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data (Q2 2020)

The request was refused by Canterbury City Council.

Dear Canterbury City 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 your local authority’s complete and most-recently updated list of all business (non-residential) property rates data, including the following fields:

- Billing Authority Property Reference Code (linking the property to the public VOA database reference)
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant or ratepayer)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupation / Vacancy status
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds) and/or categories of reliefs/exemptions granted

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.

NOTE: While FOIs are meant to be requestor blind, these data are actively used by national government and UK universities to inform the economic response to COVID-19. Commercial ratepayer data are always of public interest but, in the midst of a global pandemic and its consequent devastating economic fallout, these data are vital to track business behaviour and guide government and enterprise adaptation to the social impact of COVID-19. Please publish quickly so that organisations trying to support your local authority can do so, and, if you have any difficulties, please contact me so that I may help.

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

I last requested these data three months ago, and this is a request for your latest updated dataset.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

CCC FOI, Canterbury City Council

Thank you for submitting a Freedom of Information request.  Your email has
been forwarded to the Freedom of Information and Data
Protection Coordinator. 
We endeavour to respond to all Freedom of Information requests within 20
working days but if we think the request requires extra time we will
contact you to let you know.
Kind regards
Freedom of Information Team
Canterbury City Council

CCC FOI, Canterbury City Council

Thank you for your freedom of information request.

 

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 your local
authority’s complete and most-recently updated list of all business
(non-residential) property rates data, including the following fields:

 

- Billing Authority Property Reference Code (linking the property to the
public VOA database reference)

- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant or ratepayer)

- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)

- Occupation / Vacancy status

- Date of Occupation / Vacancy

- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds) and/or categories of
reliefs/exemptions granted

 

Please see below for our response.

 

The following items:

 

·         Billing Authority Reference Code

·         Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)

·         The current rateable value of the property

 

Are now available from the VOA website (download entire rating list) and
filter results by LA Canterbury, code 2210 - therefore these items are
exempt disclosure under FOI s21, information already in the public
domain.  I would recommend becoming familiar with the technical guidance
from the VOA.

 

Information not already publicly available is exempt from disclosure under
FOI s41(1) as it was provided to allow the Council to perform a statutory
function and has the necessary quality of confidence as it relates to the
calculation of a tax.  We maintain that a breach of this confidence would
likely be actionable.

 

In relation to the application of s41(1) we would refer you to the
decision of the First-tier Tribunal reference EA/2018/0033 dated
7-10.10.2019.

 

If you are unhappy with the way your enquiry has been dealt with, you may
ask for an internal review by e-mailing [1][email address] or by
following the procedure set out on the council’s website.  If you wish us
to reconsider our decision please provide us with any additional
information that may help your case.  Without new information we may not
have a reason to reach a different conclusion.

If you are still dissatisfied after an internal review, you may appeal to
the Information Commissioner, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow SK9
5AF.

Kind regards,

 

Julian

 

Information Governance Team

Corporate Governance

Canterbury City Council

CANTERBURY

CT1 1YW

Tel: 01227 862479

[2]www.canterbury.gov.uk

 

 

References

Visible links
1. mailto:[email address]
2. http://www.canterbury.gov.uk/

Dear Canterbury City Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Canterbury City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data (Q2 2020)'.

For avoidance of doubt, this is my quarterly request:

===
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 your local authority’s complete and most-recently updated list of all business (non-residential) property rates data, including the following fields:

- Billing Authority Property Reference Code (linking the property to the public VOA database reference)
- Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant or ratepayer)
- Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)
- Occupation / Vacancy status
- Date of Occupation / Vacancy
- Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds) and/or categories of reliefs/exemptions granted

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).
===

You have been publishing these data continuously for years. All of which are available on my website at https://sqwyre.com to anyone who wishes to search for it. Yet, without any review, you suddenly declare that the data are too dangerous for public view without any attempt to request that I redact your information from my website or from WhatDoTheyKnow, all of which is public.

But you are worse than hypocrites. Right now - July 2020 - almost 600,000 people have died from a deadly disease we have no immunity or treatment for; almost 50,000 of them British. Hundreds of millions of people have lost their jobs as the world's economy has shut down. Millions of people in the UK - business owners, workers, researchers and civil servants - are attempting to figure out how we can get the economy working again.

While requests are meant to be requestor blind, the data I request are used by national government and universities across the UK to support the economic response to COVID-19. We have an entirely immediate and demonstrable economic catastrophe effecting millions of people for which we have no local economic data to assess and provide guidance.

You have cherry-picked from the available scale of the Tribunal decision you cite. Are you acknowledging an improbable failure of governance in your sudden realisation that the data you have freely published for years is now provided in confidence? If you're going to cite that decision, what about your failure to prevent terrorism, fraud and the gathering of young people through your publication of rates data?

Refusing to publish because of a hypothetical risk from fraud - where you haven't even established a causal link between the data requested and your claims - while an actual, measurable economic disaster is happening in your authority to the people who live, work and run businesses there, is cowardly and unethical.

You should publish. Lives and livelihoods depend on knowing what is happening at the local economic level. Don't insult the public's intelligence, and right to know, by making hypothetical claims of risk without evidence while the public suffers real harm from a lack of information entirely within your capability and responsibility to publish.

On my website, anyone searching for information on Canterbury City Council will now receive the following warning (e.g. https://sqwyre.com/startup/E09000033/gen...

===
This report has been produced under restrictions that amount to censorship. Canterbury City Council claim that their publication of the business transparency data we use to produce our research would cause crime. The UK Information Tribunal has ruled that authorities do not need to produce evidence of this claim when refusing to publish since "just because it is not mentioned does not mean that it is not a risk" [1, 2]. This permits Canterbury City Council to operate beyond scrutiny or criticism, and Sqwyre.com cannot offer a good-faith recommendation to invest here.

Why not place your trust in one of the more than 90% of other local authorities which do believe in transparency?
===

You have made an evidence-free decision and it is clear that asking for a review is pointless. This "request" is not for you but for the thousands of people who rely on the work I do, and visit WhatDoTheyKnow to download the data I request.

This response will be public, to demonstrate that in a moment of great national crisis Canterbury City Council displayed both cowardice and hypocrisy.

Anyone following this thread to find out more about Canterbury City Council please know: your time and investment are best spent elsewhere.

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

CCC FOI, Canterbury City Council

Thank you for submitting a Freedom of Information request.  Your email has
been forwarded to the Freedom of Information and Data
Protection Coordinator. 
We endeavour to respond to all Freedom of Information requests within 20
working days but if we think the request requires extra time we will
contact you to let you know.
Kind regards
Freedom of Information Team
Canterbury City Council

CCC FOI, Canterbury City Council

Dear Mr Chait

I write in response to your requests for information and internal reviews
relating to our refusals to disclose such information.  I apologise for
the delay in replying.

You have requested:

 1. Billing Authority Property Reference Code (linking the property to the public VOA database reference)

 2. Firm's Trading Name (i.e. property occupant or ratepayer)

 3. Full Property Address (Number, Street, Postal Code, Town)

 4. Occupation / Vacancy status

 5. Date of Occupation / Vacancy

 6. Actual annual rates charged (in Pounds) and/or categories of reliefs/exemptions granted

 7. 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.

Having reviewed your request, I uphold our initial decision and refuse to
disclose the requested information.  My reasons are shown below.

Firstly, I must consider that disclosures under the FOI regime are treated
as disclosures to the whole world, not just the requester.  Therefore the
effect of such disclosure, on the people and processes the exemptions are
designed to protect, has to be considered.

I believe items 1 and 3 are available from the Valuation Officer’s website
and therefore FOIA2000 s21 applies to this information.  This is an
absolute exemption and not subject to the public interest test.

As much as items 1 and 3 are sought in conjunction with the other items
requested below, they are also subject to the decisions that follow.

I believe items 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are subject to a duty of confidentiality
and therefore FOIA2000 s41 applies to information.  This is an absolute
exemption and not subject to the public interest test.

In reaching this conclusion I have considered that the information is
provided by the businesses to the Council for the purpose of administering
Business Rates, being one of our public duties.  As you are aware,
Information Tribunal decision [1]EA/2018/0033 (at para 153) pointed out
the relevant application of taxpayer confidentiality provided by R
(Ingenious Media Holdings plc and another) v Revenue and Customs
Commissioners [2016] UKSC 54 para 17.  I believe that the information is
not trivial, or otherwise publicly available and those to whom it relates
would not wish it to be disclosed.  I believe there is insufficient public
interest in this information to overcome the duty of confidentiality that
applies to it.    

Also, in as much as disclosing this information would reveal, to the
entire world, which properties are currently vacant, I believe that the
disclosure of this information would adversely prejudice the prevention of
crime and therefore FOIA2000 s31(a) applies to this information.  This is
not an absolute exemption and therefore subject to the public interest
test.

In reaching this conclusion I have considered:

* The provision of a list would aid any potential criminal actions more than the absence of a list,

* Information about empty properties, in the wrong hands, could be targeted by burglars, squatters and urban explorers, which could lead to criminal damages,

* Information about empty properties, in the wrong hands, could significantly undermine the protection of the public which Canterbury City Council has sought to improve by the installation of [2]traffic control bollards which protect busy public places (i.e. the city centre),

* Canterbury City Council has a statutory duty, provided by the Crime and Disorder Act 1988 s17 to do all it can to prevent crime and disorder in the area,

* The information sought could be gained through other methods (e.g asking companies to submit it themselves) which would not involve disclosure to the world,

* The applicant has a specific interest in the data, which may well may produce benefits for others,

* Businesses can choose to advertise empty properties themselves, but in doing so they control the information and can influence the risk.

Consequently I consider that the public in maintaining the exemption
outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information and therefore
FOIA2000 s31(1) applies.

I also note that the following exemptions may apply to your request, but
as I believe s41 and s31 are sufficient to reach a conclusion I have not
explored them:

* Due to [3]IC-49300-L5T3 it may be necessary to consider if FOIA2000 s40(2) applies to the request, as natural individuals are related to businesses, and this information may be available via Companies House making them identifiable, and

* By virtue of Local Government Finance Act 1988 s63C it may be necessary to consider if FOIA2000 s44 applies to items 1 and 3 of the requested information.

I have searched for other decisions that may be relevant, but can find
nothing that persuades me to change my mind.  If you are aware of any
decisions that supersede the position illustrated by [4]EA/2018/0033 I
will happily reconsider my decision.

I accept that you have previously been able to download this information,
or it may have been given in response to previous requests under the FOI
regime or that other Council’s make it available.  The decision to
disclose this information previously was made based on the understanding
that existed at the time of disclosure, however due to decisions of the
the Information Rights Tribunal, that understanding has now changed. 
Consequently the information cannot be disclosed now.

This concludes your internal review, I am sorry if it disappoints you but
I do believe it to be the correct decision.  Please note, unless the legal
position changes, we will refuse subsequent requests under FOIA2000
s14(2).

You have the right to ask the Information Commissioner's Office to review
your case.  If you wish to ask the Information Commissioner’s Office to
consider your case, their contact details are below.

Yours sincerely

Julian Stanbury

Information Governance Manager

Information Commissioner's Office

Website: [5]https://ico.org.uk/

Postal address: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House,

Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF

Phone number: 0303 123 1113

References

Visible links
1. https://informationrights.decisions.trib...
2. https://news.canterbury.gov.uk/news/arti...
3. https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-tak...
4. https://informationrights.decisions.trib...
5. https://ico.org.uk/