Dear Sheffield City Council,

In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and subject to section 40(2) on personal data, could you provide me with the following current business rates account data for your local authority.

Please note that I do not require any personal data or data in respect of sole traders or partnerships. This is a request for information in respect of companies, charities, councils and other organisations only.

This request is only in respect of businesses that are deemed to be occupied for business rates purposes. Do not provide any information is respect of properties that are considered to be empty or unoccupied for business rates purposes.

The provision of this information is in the public interest as your authority is currently awarding grants and discounts worth tens of millions of pounds to ratepayers. Nationally, councils are awarding grants and discounts worth tens of billions of pounds to companies and organisations, some of which have turnovers of billions of pounds. Some of these ratepayers may previously have been reported as engaging in activities that aim to reduce the amount of tax that they are liable to pay. As such, I believe that the provision of this information is in the interest of taxpayers and the wider public.

• Property Reference
• Liable Party Name
• Property Address
• Rateable Value
• Property Description
• Billing or Correspondence address
• Liability Start Date
• Current entitlement to any Reliefs or Discounts (do not include details of any empty property reliefs)
• Start date of the entitlement to any current reliefs or discounts

Please provide these data as machine-readable as either a CSV or Microsoft Excel file.

Yours faithfully,

Jane Coates

FOI, Sheffield City Council

Thank you for your email.

 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the handling of information rights
requests including; data protection, freedom of information and
environmental information regulations, is temporarily suspended.

 

Requests will continue to be logged, but they will not be progressed
whilst Local Authority resources focus on the delivery of key services in
the city.

You will receive an acknowledgement email in the next few days which will
include the reference number for your request.

 

Existing requests will be answered where possible. However, it may not be
possible to complete all requests at this time.

 

For further information about compliance in handling Information Requests
during the COVID-19 pandemic, you can visit the Information Commissioner’s
Office website: [1]http://www.ico.org.uk/

 

Kind regards

 

Information Management Team

Sheffield City Council

PO Box 1283,

Sheffield

S1 1UJ

 

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References

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1. http://www.ico.org.uk/

FOI, Sheffield City Council

Dear Jane Coates,

 

Thank you for your recent request for information relating to Business
rates which we received on 06/05/2020.

 

Please find below, Sheffield City Council’s response to your request:

 

We publish some business rates information on our Open Data website at the
following link: https://datamillnorth.org/dataset/scc-bu....

 

Please note that the data we publish is limited and does not include all
of the information you requested. 

 

In case EA/2018/0055; Sheffield City Council vs Information Commissioner
and Gavin Chait, the First-tier Tribunal (General Regulatory Chamber)
Information Rights upheld the Council’s appeal against the Information
Commissioner’s decision (decision notice FS50681336
https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-tak...)
that the Council should publish this information. Consequently, the
Council maintains that this information is exempt from disclosure for the
following reasons.

 

 

Section 31 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000

 

The information you have requested is exempt from disclosure under section
31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 on the grounds that
disclosure of this information would prejudice the prevention and
detection of crime. Disclosure of this information would involve releasing
the addresses of empty properties which could make the properties more
vulnerable to criminal and anti-social activities. In particular, the
Council believes that disclosure of the information could have the
following effects:

 

•           Disclosure would provide a ready-made list of empty properties
which could be used by criminals who could target empty properties to
commit property crimes and fraud.

•           Release of information which is not easily available at
present would better enable a fraudster to persuade the council that they
were the ratepayer. It would entail significant time and expense for the
Council to alter its security system to protect against any potential
fraud.

•           Disclosure of the information would make it easier for
criminals to target empty properties in which waste could be dumped.

•           Release of information could be used to locate potential
venues for illegal raves, which are also associated with other crimes such
as criminal damage in accessing the property, drug offences and public
order offences.

•           A list of empty properties could be used by urban explorers to
locate new properties to explore and could lead to an increase in crimes
associated with urban exploring such as criminal damage to gain entry

•           Disclosure of a list of empty properties may lead to an
increase in crimes such as criminal damage, arson and anti-social
behaviour, which are often associated with squatting.

 

There is a real and significant risk that fraud would be made easier by
the release of this information and that the provision of a readymade list
of empty properties makes it easier for criminals to identify targets for
the crimes listed above. Therefore, disclosure would be likely to
prejudice the prevention of crime.

 

This is a qualified exemption and requires a public interest test to
consider whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption
outweighs the public interest in the disclosure of the information.

 

Public interest arguments in favour of disclosing the information

 

•           The disclosure of the information serves the general public
interest in promotion of better government through transparency,
accountability, public debate, better understanding of decisions, and
informed and meaningful participation of the public democratic process.

•           Researchers could use this data to contribute usefully to the
general debate in this area and therefore there is some public interest in
its release.

•           A list of vacant commercial properties could be used by
businesses looking for development opportunities

 

Public interest arguments in favour of maintaining the exemption

 

•           The release of this information would make it much easier for
a fraudster to pose as a ratepayer and bypass the Council’s security
systems, and changing those systems would entail significant time and
expense. Disclosure would also facilitate a fraudster posing as the
Council to obtain confidential information from a ratepayer. Rates fraud
is a real and current problem and the consequences to the Council of a
loss of a significant sum of public money are serious.

•           Urban exploring and illegal raves are a current problem in
Sheffield and disclosure could contribute to this problem.

•           Disclosure may lead to an increase in other property crimes
such as criminal damage, arson and anti-social behaviour. Tackling issues
like these would involve significant public expense and it is in the
public interest to protect property and to ensure that public resources
are used efficiently. There is also a compelling public interest in
avoiding personal distress to the direct victims of the crime and to those
in the wider neighbourhood who may be affected. Once an area is subject to
crime, it has an impact on the surrounding neighbourhood, reducing the
value of neighbouring properties and the quality of life of the residents.

•           Research can be undertaken without the release of this data.
There are other mechanisms for researchers to obtain the data, for example
the use of licensed research agreements, which do not involve disclosure
of the information to the world at large. 

•           There are already sources of information which can be used to
identify development opportunities: some vacant properties are being
actively marketed, there is a list of vacant commercial properties on the
Business Investment District list and information is available from the
town centre management scheme or planning officers.

 

On balance, the Council believes that the public interest in maintaining
the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

 

 

Section 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000

 

The information you have requested is exempt from disclosure under section
41(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Under section 41(1)(a),
information is exempt from disclosure if its disclosure would constitute
an actionable breach of confidence. To demonstrate an actionable breach of
confidence, the information must have the necessary quality of confidence,
must have been shared in circumstances which give rise to an obligation of
confidence and its disclosure would have to lead to an actionable breach
of confidence.

 

In this instance, information provided to a local authority for the
purposes of calculating rates or reliefs is information that a reasonable
person would regard as confidential. It is not already in the public
domain and therefore it has the necessary quality of confidence.

 

The information was shared with the Council in circumstances which give
rise to an obligation of confidence as individuals would not expect that
information held by the Council for the purposes of calculating rates or
reliefs would be used for other purposes or be published.

 

Disclosure of the information would lead to an actionable breach of
confidence as, if the Council were to disclose the information, it would
breach the general common law principle of taxpayer confidentiality.
Consequently, the information requested is exempt from disclosure under
section 41of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

 

 

You have the right to ask us to review our decision to refuse to provide
the information you have requested and can do so by replying to this
email. In the meantime, I ask that you visit our Open Data Website and
check on a regular basis as this is where we will publish the business
rates information we intend to disclose. 

  

If you remain dissatisfied with our internal review, you can contact the
Information Commissioner’s Office for further help and assistance.

 

If you have any queries about this response, please do not hesitate to
contact us.

 

If you are unhappy with the response you have received in relation to your
request, you are entitled to have this reviewed.  You can ask for an
internal review by either writing to the above address or by emailing
[1][Sheffield City Council request email].  Internal review requests should be submitted
within 40 working days from the date of this response.

 

If you remain dissatisfied with the outcome of your internal review, you
can contact the Information Commissioners Office. The Information
Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner's Office,
Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF, telephone 0303
123 1113, or for further details see their website [2]www.ico.org.uk

 

Kind Regards,

 

Sheffield City Council

PO Box 1283

Sheffield, S1 1UJ

Email: [3][Sheffield City Council request email]

P Please don't print this e-mail unless you really need to

 

 

 

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Dear Sheffield City Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Sheffield City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Current Business Rates Information'.

You have refused my request in accordance with Section 31 and have then gone on to explain why it is not in the public interest to provide details of empty properties. However, I have specifically asked you to exclude details of empty properties from your response, so it is not clear why you have refused my request on this basis when I have not requested this information. I assume that the s31 refusal has been copied into your response as an error and would be grateful if you could confirm this.

You have also refused my request under s41(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. In the current context it is expected that Sheffield City Council will be granting tax reliefs and grant funding totalling over £100m in the current financial year alone. Some of these payments may be granted to businesses that are profitable or may have been previously reported as engaging in activities that mitigate the amount of tax that they pay.

This is a matter of public interest and there are already a number of news articles on this subject, such as https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfre.... Sheffield Council should have developed and approved its own local policies regarding rates relief and your residents and taxpayers in general have a right to know the full cost of these policies and which companies are benefiting from them.

As such, and because the cost of these local policies will be borne by current and future taxpayers I strongly suggest that a reasonable person (or taxpayer) would not regard the supply of information regarding reductions in taxation as being a breach of confidence. The tax affairs of these multi-national companies are already discussed in public and there is already public disquiet about their ‘business rates holiday’ as shown in an article in The Times dated 28th April 2020 titled ‘Companies who avoid tax in good times shouldn’t get bailouts now’. In addition, other companies may have benefited financially from the current situation but still be in receipt of a rates reduction in accordance with Sheffield’s policy.

Therefore, I suggest that there is strong public interest for the information to be supplied and that this would not breach the common law principle of taxpayer confidentiality, particularly as the wider tax affairs of many of the companies that may be in receipt of a rates discount from Sheffield Council are discussed in the public domain.

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,

Jane Coates

FOI, Sheffield City Council

Dear Jane Coates

 

Thank you for your recent request for an internal review relating to
Business Rates which we received on 07/05/2020. We are sorry to hear that
you are not happy with your response.

 

This has now been logged and will be carried out by a member of the team

 

You should expect to hear a response from us by 08/06/2020.

 

While we endeavour to fulfil statutory deadlines, due to the current
pandemic situation there may be delays due to resourcing shortages. We
will try to provide updates where possible.

 

In the meantime, if you have any queries please, contact us at the email
address below.

 

Thank you.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Sheffield City Council

PO Box 1283

Sheffield, S1 1UJ

Email: [1][Sheffield City Council request email]

P Please don't print this e-mail unless you really need to

 

 

 

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FOI, Sheffield City Council

Dear Ms Coates

 

Thank you for your request for an internal review of FOI 2020-21-2029. I
have conducted an internal review of our handling of the request and I
have found that the Council did correctly apply the exemptions under
sections 31 and 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).

 

Section 31FOIA

 

I acknowledge that your request specifically asked for details of empty
properties not to be included in the response. However, if we were to
provide you with a list of occupied properties only, this information
could be compared to the full list of properties which we publish on our
Open Data site. By comparing the two lists, you would be able to deduce
which properties from the full list are occupied and which are empty. I
acknowledge that our initial refusal notice did not make this clear and I
apologise for this. However, as disclosure of the information would allow
you to find out information about empty properties, the explanation we
provided in our initial refusal notice about the application of section 31
to information about empty properties is still relevant.  

 

Therefore, I am satisfied that the exemption was applied correctly and
that the information is exempt from disclosure under section 31(1)(a) FOIA
as disclosure of this information would prejudice the prevention and
detection of crime. If we were to disclose the information requested, it
could make empty properties more vulnerable to criminal and anti-social
activities.

 

Section 41FOIA

 

I am also satisfied that the Council correctly applied section 41 FOIA to
the requested information. In case EA/2018/0055; Sheffield City Council vs
Information Commissioner and Gavin Chait, the First-tier Tribunal (General
Regulatory Chamber) Information Rights considered arguments relating to
the application of section 41 FOIA to information about business rates,
including arguments as to whether this information is covered by the
common law duty of confidence and is exempt from disclosure under section
41 FOIA. The First-tier Tribunal upheld the Council’s appeal against the
Information Commissioner’s decision (decision notice FS50681336
[1]https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-tak...)
that the Council should publish this information, concluding that this
information is confidential and should be exempt from disclosure under
FOIA.

 

In line with the Tribunal’s decision, the Council maintains that this
information is exempt from disclosure under section 31 and 41 FOIA and
will not be making a change to its original decision. I realise this is
not the decision that you would wish, but I hope you can understand why I
have upheld the original refusal to provide you with the details you have
requested.

 

If you are still dissatisfied with our response, you can ask the
Information Commissioner for a decision: [2][email address].

 

Kind regards

 

Robert Jackson

Access to Information Officer

Information Management Team

Business Change and Information Solutions (BCIS)

Resources Portfolio

Sheffield City Council

PO Box 1283, Sheffield S1 1UJ

0114 273 4906

[3][Sheffield City Council request email]

[4]www.sheffield.gov.uk

 

 

From: Rollett Gemma (CEX) On Behalf Of FOI
Sent: 11 May 2020 15:09
To: '[FOI #662528 email]'
Subject: Re – Internal Review – Reference – FOI / 2020-21-2029

 

Dear Jane Coates

 

Thank you for your recent request for an internal review relating to
Business Rates which we received on 07/05/2020. We are sorry to hear that
you are not happy with your response.

 

This has now been logged and will be carried out by a member of the team

 

You should expect to hear a response from us by 08/06/2020.

 

While we endeavour to fulfil statutory deadlines, due to the current
pandemic situation there may be delays due to resourcing shortages. We
will try to provide updates where possible.

 

In the meantime, if you have any queries please, contact us at the email
address below.

 

Thank you.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Sheffield City Council

PO Box 1283

Sheffield, S1 1UJ

Email: [5][Sheffield City Council request email]

P Please don't print this e-mail unless you really need to

 

 

 

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