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

The request was refused by Gwynedd Council.

Dear Gwynedd 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

Rhyddid Gwybodaeth,

Dear Gavin Chait,

Freedom of Information (ref T152)

Thank you for your recent request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Your request has been passed to me to process and I can confirm that it has been logged under the reference number T152.

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 06/08/2020.

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,

Dear Gavin Chait,

Freedom of Information (ref T152)

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
•To encourage transparency in the Council’s decision making processes
•It allows transparency of decisions on how public funds are spent
Public Interest Arguments for Withholding information
•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 liability, 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
•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
Public Interest Arguments against withholding information
•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