NDR

Richard Scott made this Freedom of Information request to Monmouthshire County Council

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 successful.

Dear Monmouthshire Council,

Please can you provide me with the following information under the
Freedom Of Information Act 2000:-

The most up to date list you can obtain (Ideally from January 2018) (please provide the date of the data) with;
(a) List all Commercial properties with their Rateable Values and addresses.
(b) The names and addresses of the Rate payers referred to above
for each property and their correspondence address (if different
from the property address)
(c) The full billing authority reference for each property (this is the property reference not the account number)
(d) The current liability payable for the year 2017/18
(e) The date the rateable occupier first became liable for the
business rates
(f) If the property is empty that date it became empty
(g) Please also state which hereditament is currently receiving
I. Charitable rate relief (mandatory rate relief)
II. Discretionary rate relief
III. Empty property rate relief
IV. Listed building exemption
V. Retail Relief
VI Small Business Rate Relief
VII. Any other relief
(h) List of all credits on account and the amounts

In accordance with the ICO Torbay decision, I would appreciate it of this Council did not withhold the names of sole traders and partners. In the circumstances of the Torbay case the individuals were private landlords or sole traders and the Commissioner concluded that disclosure of their names would not breach the first data protection principle as the information relates to the business activities of the individuals concerned and not activities they undertake simply or solely in their private lives. The Commissioner concluded that disclosure would be fair and meet schedule 2 condition 6 of the Data Protection Act.

Thank you in advance.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Scott

Hoggins, Averil M., Monmouthshire County Council

4 Attachments

Dear Mr Scott

I refer to your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

I have attached the files regarding most of your request.

With regard to the credits information we are withholding that information since we consider that the following exemptions apply to it.

This information is exempt from disclosure under Section 31(1)(a) - Law enforcement. Disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime.

Section 31(1)(a) is a qualified exemption, and therefore is subject to the Public Interest Test. Section 31(1)(a) provides an exemption where prejudice could be caused to allow potential fraudsters to use the information to identify business entities which were entitled to claim credits on their accounts. Once such a business had been identified, there would be a number of avenues open to the fraudsters to seek to obtain funds.

To use this exemption we are required to undertake a public interest test. The matters which were considered in applying the public interest test are as follows:

Factors in favour of disclosure
Withholding the information could be perceived as the council attempting to retain monies that belong to the public.

It is in the public interest to be open and transparent about our use of public funds.

It is also in the public interest to provide some transparency regarding the records we hold in respect of the administration of business rates. This could be of interest to the minority of people who are due a refund, but have somehow failed to receive the notifications that money is due to them.

Factors in favour of withholding
There is a public interest in ensuring that monies from the public purse, such as rebates on business accounts, are not fraudulently claimed and also a public interest in not making it easier for fraud to be committed.

Our current verification procedure for refund claims is simple and cost effective. Disclosure of the requested information would result in additional verification processes needing to be implemented, at additional cost to the public which appeared disproportionate to the benefits that would accrue from disclosure. The additional verification procedures would also be likely to slow the verification process, resulting in detriment to the genuine ratepayer which would be contrary to the public interest.

In relation to any new verification processes that might be needed, these would be likely to require the production of additional documents by those claiming a rebate which would place a new administrative burden on the majority of those legitimate claimants that did not currently exist. This would be compounded by the fact that the level of scrutiny of those documents would be higher than at present, given the increased suspicion that some of the claims (and associated documents) might well be fraudulent. The result would be that a new verification process would be likely to slow the rate at which credit balance claims could be considered and refunded, causing delay in all refunds and the likelihood of complaints, which would further burden our limited resources.

Disclosure of the requested information would result in the need to implement disproportionate steps and additional expense to the public purse to counter an increased fraud risk that do not exist at present.

The cost consequences of a successful fraudulent claim would:
(a) have incurred the cost of paying out to the fraudster;
(b) remain liable to the legitimate rate payer for an equivalent amount, raising the prospect of paying out twice; and
(c) be faced with the cost (legal and incurrence of internal management time) of seeking to recover the funds wrongly paid to the fraudster.

It would not be in the public interest to expose it to such potential costs and expenses, given that they would be funded from the public purse.

It is considered that the greater public interest, therefore, lies in not providing the information at this time. In coming to that conclusion, the public interest in providing the information has been carefully weighed against any prejudice to the public interest that might arise from withholding the information; in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information. This response, therefore, acts as a refusal notice under section 17 of the FoIA.

If you are dissatisfied with the way the Council has handled your request for information, you can request a review by e-mail to mailto:[email address] or by writing to:

Paul Matthews
Chief Executive
PO Box 106
Caldicot
NP26 9AN

If you remain dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner at:

Information Commissioner’s Office
2nd Floor
Churchill House
Churchill Way
Cardiff
CF10 2HH

Telephone: 02920 678400
Email: [email address]
Fax: 02920 678399

There is no charge for making an appeal.

Regards

Averil

Averil Hoggins
Freedom of Information Support Officer (temporary)
Email / Ebost: [email address]

show quoted sections