Dear Barrow in Furness Borough Council,
I am looking for data concerning the vacant / absentee owner list.
We buy houses quickly, so we would like to offer the vendors a solution to this and equally offer our service.
We are aware this is public data.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT 2000 – INFORMATION REQUEST
Thank you for your request for information relating empty residential properties.
Your request has been considered and it is not possible to meet your request.
In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 this letter acts as a Public Interest Refusal Notice.
It is considered that the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.
The exemption applied is Section 31(1)(a) – Law Enforcement (the prevention or detection of crime)
In the Information Tribunal decision in the case of Mr P England and the London Borough of Bexley and the Information Commissioner Appeal no: EA/2006/0060 & 0066 the Information Tribunal found that the address of the property and the address or other details of the owner, where the owner was an individual, were personal data as defined by the Data Protection Act 1998, and fell within the exemption in Section 40 (3)(a)(i) (Personal Information) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. However I note you have not requested details of individuals therefore I have not considered this further.
Section 31(1) states that:
“Information which is not exempt information by virtue of Section 30 [information held for the purposes of investigations and proceedings conducted by public authorities] is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would or would be likely to prejudice
(a) the prevention or detection of crime
Section 31(1)(a) constitutes both a prejudice based is a qualified exemption
Would disclosure be likely to prejudice the prevention and detection of crime?
The nature of the prejudice is that, if a list of empty property addresses were disclosed then these properties would become more vulnerable to potential squatters and associated crime and disorder bringing with that the social and economic costs.
In the case of the London Borough of Bexley V Mr Colin P England and the Information Commissioner (EA/2006/0060 and 0066) the Tribunal accepted evidence that empty properties are associated with criminal activity from organised local gangs. In particular it identified occasions of organised “stripping” of empty properties. The Tribunal also accepted that whilst squatting is not a crime in itself, it is associated with criminal activity and that the disclosure of the list of properties would be of use to squatters and would be likely to lead to significant harm in the form of criminal activity. The Tribunal considered that disclosure would be likely to have a significant negative impact on the prevention of crime.
In a case involving the London Borough of Camden (FS50301943) the Council referred to a series of incidents that occurred subsequent to the publicising of a Compulsory Purchase Order. The ICO accepted that the exemption under section 31(1)(a) was engaged.
Barrow Borough Council has also experienced incidents following declaration of renewal areas within the borough.
The Public Interest Test
The public interest test requires determining whether the public interest in maintaining the exemption
outweighs the public interest in disclosure of the information.
Public interest arguments in favour of disclosing the requested information
1. Disclosure of information by the Council is in the public interest in order to promote transparency and accountability in relation to the activities of public authorities, including how the Council is using its resources and decisions affecting people’s lives such as the Council’s action/inaction regarding individual properties.
2. Disclosure of the information would be in the financial and commercial interest of the public because it may increase the chances that these buildings will be brought back into use.
3. The information could be used by those with an interest in empty properties and their rehabilitation.
4. Disclosure could also assist academic and policy orientated research.
Public interest arguments in favour of maintaining the exemption
There is an inherent strong public interest in avoiding likely prejudice to the prevention of crime. As set out above there is a significant risk of prejudice occurring to the prevention of crime.
There is a diverse range of crime that may be attracted to empty properties including anti social behaviour, criminal damage, arson and “stripping”.
The residents that are in close proximity to the properties would also be under threat due to the fact that a crime is being committed and they have the right and expectation to feel secure and safe in the environment in which they live.
Balance of the public interest arguments
There is always an element of public interest in the disclosure of information. Disclosure serves the general public interest in promotion of better government through transparency, accountability, public debate, understanding of decision making and participation in the public democratic process.
There is a significant public interest in bringing empty properties back into use. Where a property is brought back into use there are a number of beneficial effects:-
Housing needs of some individuals would be met
Costs associated with funding alternative accommodation would be reduced
Cost of council tax discounts for empty properties would fall
Crime associated with empty properties would fall
However these longer term benefits need to be weighed against the more immediate likely prejudice to the prevention of crime and the distressing effect of this on individuals and other organisations.
My decision is that the public interest in avoiding prejudice to the prevention of crime outweighs the public interest in disclosure in all circumstances of this case.
I apologise that your request will not be met but if you have any further information needs in the future then please contact me.
You have the right of appeal against the decision. If you wish to appeal please set out in writing your grounds of appeal and send it to this mailbox.
You also have a right of appeal to the Information Commissioner at:
Information Commissioner's Office
Telephone: 01625 545 700
Freedom of Information
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