Complete Non-Residential / Business Property Rates Data

Gavin Chait made this Freedom of Information request to Birmingham City Council as part of a batch sent to 55 authorities

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by Birmingham City Council.

Dear Birmingham City Council,

In terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, 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 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)

I am aware that you already do provide listings of some business rates data (such as credit balances, or those receiving rates relief) but the existing data does not state whether properties are occupied or vacant (whether relief is received or not). It is also critical that the Billing Authority Code be provided for each property otherwise I am unable to reconcile your data with the Valuations Office master list.

I appreciate that properties owned / rented by individuals are personal information and such personal data (i.e. the Firm's Trading Name) would be excluded from my request in terms of Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In such cases, please provide the remaining information with the Firm's Trading Name either blank or listed as 'individual'.

Please provide this as machine-readable as either a CSV or Microsoft Excel file, capable of re-use, and under terms of the Open Government Licence.

Yours faithfully,

Gavin Chait

Benefit Service Policy, Birmingham City Council

2 Attachments

 

 

 

 

Dear Gavin Chait

 

Freedom of Information Act 2000 – Request for Information FOI 14470

 

I am responding to your request for information held by the Council under
the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

 

The original request:

 

+------------------------------------------------------------------------+
|   In terms of the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, 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 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) |
| |
|     |
| |
|     I am aware that you already do provide listings of some business |
| |
|     rates data (such as credit balances, or those receiving rates |
| |
|     relief) but the existing data does not state whether properties are|
| |
|     occupied or vacant (whether relief is received or not). It is also |
| |
|     critical that the Billing Authority Code be provided for each |
| |
|     property otherwise I am unable to reconcile your data with the |
| |
|     Valuations Office master list. |
| |
|     |
| |
|     I appreciate that properties owned / rented by individuals are |
| |
|     personal information and such personal data (i.e. the Firm's |
| |
|     Trading Name) would be excluded from my request in terms of Section|
| |
|     40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In such cases, please|
| |
|     provide the remaining information with the Firm's Trading Name |
| |
|     either blank or listed as 'individual'. |
| |
|     |
| |
|     Please provide this as machine-readable as either a CSV or |
| |
|     Microsoft Excel file, capable of re-use, and under terms of the |
| |
|     Open Government Licence. |
| |
|  |
+------------------------------------------------------------------------+

 

 

This has been referred to an appropriate officer, who has provided the
following data in order to answer your enquiry.

 

 The response:

 

+------------------------------------------------------------------------+
|-        We have only supplied live accounts – not able to supply vacant|
|accounts – see empty properties below |
| |
|-        The customer can find out what the charge is by using the RV |
|and multiplying this against the multiplier. |
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|  |
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|  |
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|EMPTY PROPERTIES |
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|  |
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|Birmingham City Council is unable to provide lists of vacant or empty |
|properties, as it considers that the details of and addresses of empty |
|or vacant properties are exempt under s31 of the Freedom of Information |
|Act 2000. |
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|  |
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|  |
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|s31 prevention / detection of crime |
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|  |
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|Section 31 states: |
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|(1) Information which is not exempt information by virtue of section 30 |
|is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would |
|be likely to, prejudice— |
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|(a) the prevention or detection of crime |
| |
|  |
| |
|Section 31 is a qualified exemption, ie even where the exemption |
|applies, the public interest in disclosure of the requested information |
|must be considered. |
| |
|  |
| |
|Birmingham City Council considers that there is a strong public interest|
|in being open and transparent in relation to its functions. However, it |
|considers that any benefit arising from disclosure is far outweighed by |
|the real and substantial risk of harm, arising from criminal activities,|
|which would be likely to follow the disclosure of information relating |
|to vacant properties to the world at large. |
| |
|  |
| |
|These will include thefts from the vacant buildings (such as internal |
|fixtures, lead from the roof of the building, and so on), criminal |
|damage - and of course squatting, which is now a criminal offence. |
| |
|  |
| |
|Birmingham City Council is aware of the decision of the Lower Chamber of|
|the Information Tribunal in 2011, in the case of Voyias v Camden Borough|
|Council [2011], that information relating to the location of vacant |
|properties should be made public. However, this was overturned by the |
|Higher Chamber of the Information Tribunal in July 2012, which ordered |
|that this matter be returned to the Lower Chamber for a re-hearing. |
| |
|  |
| |
|The judgment of the Higher Tribunal stated: “in deciding that the |
|requested information was lawfully withheld, the Lower Tribunal was |
|plainly mindful of the guidance given by the Upper Tribunal that, when |
|determining whether the public interest balance weighed in favour of |
|maintaining the s31(1)(a) exemption, regard should be had not merely to |
|the direct adverse consequences of the disclosure, but also to |
|any indirect consequences which arose as ‘realistic possibilities’. |
|Ultimately, the lower tribunal concluded that ‘the small weight that the|
|public interest in disclosure bears does not come close to equalling the|
|public interest in preventing the categories of crime we have identified|
|in this decision”. |
| |
|  |
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|Upon re-hearing in January 2013, it was held that the Local Authority |
|was entitled to refuse to provide the information under s31 of the |
|Freedom of Information Act as the public interest in withholding the |
|information, ie the public interest in preventing crime, outweighed the |
|public interest in disclosure. |
| |
|  |
| |
|The Tribunal confirmed that the disclosure of information would be |
|likely to give rise to criminal activity, not only in terms of theft |
|from the vacant properties and the activities of individuals who may |
|decide to squat in vacant properties, but also the potential further |
|criminal activity that is sometimes associated with squatting, such as |
|drug use. It must be noted that squatting is now a criminal offence in |
|itself, and in any event normally involves criminal damage, both in |
|terms of gaining access to the property, and then changing the locks to |
|secure the property and to prevent the lawful property owner from |
|gaining access to their property. |
| |
|  |
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|Public interest test |
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|  |
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|Whilst the City Council accepts that the purpose of a request may be for|
|research purposes or similar general use, a release under FOI puts the |
|information into the public domain for anyone to use – it is not |
|restricted to the requester. |
| |
|  |
| |
|Birmingham City Council considers that the exemption at section 31 |
|applies to all of the requested information about empty properties in |
|light of the Information Tribunal decision in Voyias v Camden Borough |
|Council. |
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|  |
| |
|  |
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|In addition, the Information Commissioner’s Office, in a recent Decision|
|Notice (ref: FS5058467 - Hardie), dealt specifically with the issue of |
|the risk of crime that arises when details of empty properties are |
|disclosed. Paragraph 30 of the Decision Notice refers to the risk of |
|identity fraud, for example through intercepting post, or through the |
|use of an address to apply for services such as bank loans and credit |
|cards. At paragraph 49 of the Decision Notice the words of Upper |
|Tribunal Judge Edwards are quoted, as follows: |
| |
|  |
| |
|“Preventing crime prevents the criminal acts themselves and the |
|consequences that accompany or follow them. These factors have to be |
|taken into account as part of the assessment of the public interest. The|
|consequences of a crime may be financial or social. They may be direct |
|or indirect. Just to take criminal damage, there are the costs of |
|security measures, the cost of repairs, increased insurance premiums for|
|the area and an impact on local property values. There is no |
|justification for taking account of only some of these financial |
|consequences. There is no difference in principle between the costs that|
|are carried by private individuals, by the public purse, or spread |
|through insurance premiums. Nor is there a difference in principle |
|between the cost of repairing the damage and the cost of evicting |
|someone who caused the damage in order to gain entry and possession. And|
|there is no justification for severing financial costs from social costs|
|……….. criminal damage and its consequences can reduce the quality of |
|life in a neighbourhood. There is a |
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|psychological element involved, which may not be rational. People may |
|feel more vulnerable or threatened than they really are. But the impact |
|is none the less real for that”. |
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|  |
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|  |
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|Birmingham City Council considers that the same rationale should apply |
|to both residential and commercial properties. |
| |
|  |
| |
|The City Council considers that there is a strong public interest in |
|openness and transparency, and is keen to see empty properties brought |
|back into occupation, but in the interests of preventing crime, the City|
|Council will only publish/ disclose details of vacant properties where |
|it has the consent of the property owners, or (in respect of Council |
|properties) where the property has been declared surplus to |
|requirements. |
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|  |
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|  |
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|  |
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|  |
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|  |
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|  |
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|  |
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|January 2016 |
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|  |
+------------------------------------------------------------------------+

 

 

If you are not satisfied with this response you may ask for an internal
review. Please contact the corporate team at the address below:

 

Performance & Information (WS)

PO Box 16366

Birmingham

B2 2YY

or

[1][email address]

 

If subsequently you are not satisfied with the Council’s decision you may
apply to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Generally, the ICO
cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the complaints procedure
provided by the Council.

 

The Information Commissioner can be contacted at the following address:

 

The Information Commissioner

Wycliffe House

Water Lane

Wilmslow

Cheshire

SK9 5AF

 

Telephone: 01625 545745

Web Address: [2]www.ico.org.uk

 

Yours sincerely

 

Strategy Development Team

[3]Tel:0121 464 2152

 

 

Please respond to Benefit Service Policy , NOT to individuals

 

 

 

Data Protection Act 1998

The information you have provided within your Freedom of Information
request will be held on our database and may also be held within manual
records for a period of 2 years from the date Birmingham City Council
received your request. Any personal data that you provide to Birmingham
City Council will be held in line with the requirements set out within the
Data Protection Act 1998.

 

Re Use of Public Sector Information

Where Birmingham City Council is the copyright holder of any information
that may be released, re-use for personal, educational or non-commercial
purposes is permitted without further reference to the City Council. Where
the re-use is for other purposes, such as commercial re-use, the applicant
should notify the City Council in writing to seek approval or agree terms
for re-use.

 

 

 

 

 

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References

Visible links
1. mailto:[email address]
2. http://www.ico.gov.uk/
3. file:///tmp/Tel:0121

Dear Birmingham City Council,

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

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

On 15 March 2016, 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(a). According to the Information Commissioners 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(a) deals specifically with "the prevention or detection of crime".

The purpose of our use of the data requested is in informing entrepreneurs and business seekers about opportunities in empty premises when they are advertised for new tenants. We combine local authority premises occupation data with other data (from the Valuations Office and ONS) to develop forward guidance on business potential in each empty business property. Further details on our activities are available at http://pikhaya.com, but our activity is supported by the Open Data Institute and we have received funding from the EU Open Data Incubator to develop this service.

Our combined data are made available via online commercial property leasing intermediaries as a free service to business seekers. These leasing intermediaries combine our data with properties being offered for rent.

In other words, these are properties being clearly advertised as empty whether the local authority data are publicly available or not.

A property being empty may well lead to it being more likely to suffer potential criminal activity, but it does not automatically follow that publishing a list of empty properties in any way changes that potential.

Of the 350 local authorities in England and Wales, over 150 of these either already make empty property data available, or have done so in response to FOI requests from ourselves.

We are mindful, though, that not all authorities wish to release direct information on empty premises. In that case, could we suggest that you provide only a list of occupied properties which we would then reconcile against the master list of properties from the Valuations Office Agency (VOA). VOA data are available via their website, and the complete database by subscription. Empty premises will be known to residents of the community in which they are based.That means that anyone not resident in your community and wanting to find the list of empty properties would have to undertake the costs and technicalities of a similar data reconciliation.

I would ask that you consider that the public interest in economic development and improving opportunities for independent businesses and entrepreneurs far outweighs any concern that the release of data which can identify empty business properties may cause crime.

Unemployment and economic deprivation are often key to reducing the potential for crime. Our intention is to support local economic development initiatives through the use of these data.

I ask that you reconsider your decision and make this data available to us under terms which permit our use thereof.

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

FOI Mailbox, Birmingham City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Chait

 

Please see the attached for your request for an internal review.

 

Yours sincerely

Corporate Information Governance Team

 

 

10 Woodcock Street

Aston

Birmingham

B7 4BL

Telephone: 0121 303 2080

 

 

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Gavin Chait left an annotation ()

Council does not have data on crimes committed in empty business premises. Cross-reference to: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

Gavin Chait left an annotation ()

And neither do the West Midlands police: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

In other words, Birmingham City Council's strenuous rejection of this request in terms of Section 31 is unsupported by objective data.

There is no way evidence that releasing empty property data increases crime, and so no objective reason for the rejection.

Dear FOI Mailbox,

In terms of my request for an internal review. Note that, as of this morning, West Midlands Police have indicated that they collect no objective information on crime as it relates to empty commercial premises.

You can see their correspondence here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

In addition, Birmingham City Council also declares that it has no information on empty properties and crime: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/a...

There is no evidence that information on empty property leads to an increase in crime. In other words, it is very difficult to see how the council can sustain an objective claim that it can cite Section 31(a) in order to refuse my request for empty commercial property data.

This is all I have to add to my initial request for an internal review.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin Chait

Patricia Rowson, Birmingham City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Chait

Please see the attached in response to your request for internal review.

Regards

Corporate Information Governance Team

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