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Trading Standards Investigations into Lettings Agents and Property Managers

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Dear Manchester City Council,

Would you please supply the following information under the Freedom of Information Act.

The number of trading standards investigations carried out in relation to letting agents and property management companies in the past 5 years. If the number of investigations is less than 15, please extend the period to 10 years.

With the data please expand using the following criteria:

What was the exact nature of those investigations and outcome on a case by case basis and who were the alleged offending agents involved in those cases. With this in mind please clarify the investigations using the following format taking note of the examples.

Date: xx/xxxx
Company: ABC Agents
Offence/s: Breach of section xx of xxxx Act /Reg xxxx
Nature of Offence: Misleading action/Omission/Money Laundering/Failure to Register for Redress Scheme
Action Taken: Warning Issued/Court Proceedings Taken (Outcome)/ Referred to Police/SFO/CMA/ Or Relevant comment

Date: xx/xxxx
Company: (Under Investigation)
Offence/s: Breach of section xx of xxxx Act /Reg xxxx
Nature of Offence: Misleading action/Omission/Money Laundering/Failure to Register for Redress Scheme
Action Taken: Under Investigation/Proceeding With Court Case/Referred to Police/SFO/CMA/Or Relevant Comment

It is understood that disclosure of any company’s details is not covered by the DPA and therefore cannot be withheld unless there is a current ongoing investigation (not outstanding due to disapeearance) against the company. In stating this exception only applies to ongoing investigations and does not preclude the company being named relating to previous investigations. If there is an ongoing investigation then please indicate the investigation type and omit the company’s name.

Finally, the release of this information is in the public interest and appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

Yours Sincerely,

M Doyle

Information Compliance, Manchester City Council

Dear Mr Doyle
Re: Request for Information - Reference No: GAN/AT7H7F
Thank you for your request for information received by Manchester City
Council on 17 November 2017.
Please note that it may take up to 20 working days (15 December 2017) for
the Council to consider your request and to provide a formal response.   
If this timescale needs to be extended to consider an exemption you will
be notified and kept informed. 
If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact me. 
Yours sincerely
Cieran Cassidy
Democratic Services
PO Box 532
Town Hall
Manchester
M60 2LA
Email:  [1][Manchester City Council request email]
Website:  [2]www.manchester.gov.uk

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Manchester City Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Doyle

Request for Information -No.330 GAN/AT7H7F

Thank you for your request for information, which was received by
Manchester City Council on 17 November 2017. Your request has been
considered under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000
(FoIA).  I set out below your request for information and the Council’s
response.

In your request you asked for the following information: Would you please
supply the following information under the Freedom of Information Act. The
number of trading standards investigations carried out in relation to
letting agents and property management companies in the past 5 years.  If
the number of investigations is less than 15, please extend the period to
10 years. With the data please expand using the following criteria:

What was the exact nature of those investigations and outcome on a case by
case basis and who were the alleged offending agents involved in those
cases. With this in mind please clarify the investigations using the
following format taking note of the examples.

Date: xx/xxxx
Company: ABC Agents
Offence/s: Breach of section xx of xxxx Act /Reg xxxx
Nature of Offence: Misleading action/Omission/Money Laundering/Failure to
Register for Redress Scheme
Action Taken: Warning Issued/Court Proceedings Taken (Outcome)/ Referred to
Police/SFO/CMA/ Or Relevant comment

Date: xx/xxxx
Company: (Under Investigation)
Offence/s: Breach of section xx of xxxx Act /Reg xxxx
Nature of Offence: Misleading action/Omission/Money Laundering/Failure to
Register for Redress Scheme
Action Taken: Under Investigation/Proceeding With Court Case/Referred to
Police/SFO/CMA/Or Relevant Comment

It is understood that disclosure of any company’s details is not covered by
the DPA and therefore cannot be withheld unless there is a current ongoing
investigation (not outstanding due to disappearance) against the company.
In stating this exception only applies to ongoing investigations and does
not preclude the company being named relating to previous investigations.
If there is an ongoing investigation then please indicate the investigation
type and omit the company’s name.

Finally, the release of this information is in the public interest and
appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

In response:

1. The number of trading standards investigations carried out in relation
to letting agents and property management companies in the past 5 years.
If the number of investigations is less than 15, please extend the period
to 10 years.

There have been 95 trading standards investigations carried out in relation
to letting agents and property management companies in the past 5 years.

2. What was the exact nature of those investigations and outcome on a case
by case basis and who were the alleged offending agents involved in those
cases. With this in mind please clarify the investigations using the
following format taking note of the examples.

Please find the following information in the spreadsheet attached: d
ate; offence/s: breach of Act /Reg; nature of offence: action taken: case
closed or still being investigated.

(See attached file: spreadsheet for release.xlsx)

The spreadsheet does not include names of the businesses investigated as
this information is exempt from disclosure under Section 44 (1) (a) of FOI
Act. Section 44(1)(a) exempts information where its disclosure
is prohibited by other legislation. The name of the business is exempt
because its disclosure is prohibited under Part 9 Section 237 of the
Enterprise Act, 2002.

Section 44 is an absolute exemption and so is not subject to the Public
Interest Test.

Please note if you are not satisfied with this response you may ask for an
internal review. If you wish an internal review to be undertaken you should
contact the Democratic Services Legal Team, whose address is, PO Box 532,
Town Hall, Manchester, M60 2LA, email:
[Manchester City Council request email] in the first instance. A copy of
the Council’s access to information complaints procedure can be downloaded
from
http://www.manchester.gov.uk/downloads/d...
. If you do not have internet access and require a paper copy, please let
me know.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review process, you
have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision.

The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF
Tel: 01625 545700
Fax: 01625 524510
www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,
Angela Whitehead
Compliance and Enforcement Lead
Growth and Neighbourhoods Directorate
Manchester City Council

show quoted sections

Dear Manchester City Council,

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

I am writing to request an internal review of Manchester City Council's handling of my FOI request 'Trading Standards Investigations into Lettings Agents and Property Managers'.

The request to the council is 1 of over 50 identical requests were made across all London Boroughs and top 20 populated councils in England.

That all councils with a per capita, rental property and relative business coefficient have in the main replied and adhered to the request in the format required.

That the use of the act and or acts to withhold cannot be applied in order to present a refusal of disclosure. Apart from potential misinterpretation and or unreasonable use, the imposition is superseded due to a number of factors, including but not exclusively the following.
- Other councils interpretation and setting precedent by issuing company and trader names in the request which can be found on Whatdotheyknow.com and in your proximity Leicester City Council
- The naming of companies receiving fixed penalties relating to publication of fees under the acts described in your response that are in the public domain, such as Foxtons receiving a number of fixed penalties by councils in London.
- Your own council and other councils environmental health units carrying out inspections and the issuing hygiene standard ratings notices to publicly display the level of compliance in the windows of those businesses. Therefore these notices to state the degree of compliance are made public without any legal action being taken or indeed indicating that it will take place. The notices of compliance and penalties issued to Lettings Agents and Property Management Companies are de facto binary notices of compliance or non compliance and those traders names should be divulged in the public interest. By doing and contrary to Hygiene notices, will have no adverse affect on those businesses should they become compliant and should they remain non compliant, then the council can issue a penalty which should be divulged as the company clearly shows that it is willing to breach legislation and regulation which is on public record, ergo failure of compliance in hygiene as an example, this can also be construed as being under investigation as there are constant compliance checks being carried out and premised investigated for breaches. Therefore failing to disclose is fundamentally disproportionate and prejudicially favourable to property sector companies and a breach in itself.
- That it is in the public interest that disclosure be made and failure to do so gives licence for bad business practices to be pursued by those companies and or sector as the public record of legislative and regulatory breaches are being unreasonably withheld.

The information is required to ascertain the level of enforcement and areas which are being approached, therefore it is important that the data is furnished in the entirety to avert the misreporting of such complaints. For example being described as investigated when there has just been a legitimate response and advice given relating to a complainant and or citing multiple complaints as investigations relating to the same trader and or company for the same and or repeated offence from the same group of people on a regular basis. In your case, you have not differentiated the traders by citation of sections 30 and 44 and not denoting or differentiating the names could be translated that it could be 1 or 95 traders relating to 1 or 95 different breaches against 1 or 95 complaints. Furthermore, with disclosure it is easier to differentiate cited investigations relating to different traders and the standard compliance checks and or statutory membership to a stipulated redress scheme, publication of fees and or other breach which often take place in a finite time period and possibly related to a policy directive than complaint.

Given that only a minority of 53 requests made have reverted to the wholesale and unreasonable withholding, misinterpretation of the act and or as in your response, forwarding unsubstantiated entries not in accordance with a request was designed to obtain an informed response with clarity of content that would be achievable within the scope of the act as well as time constraints and costs.
If you are in doubt this can be achieved, I ask that you review the responses of the City of Leicester and the London Borough of Croydon for examples of comparative and achievable responses under identical requests and conditions.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

Given the above and proof that the request can be achieved within the parameters set out in the act in accordance of the request, I ask that an internal review be untaken and the request be responded to which the formats supplied by either Croydon or Leicester are acceptable as responses, to which the information supplied has gone some way. And please note that in Leicester’s response they have supplied all the comparative information to which you have refused citing legislation. I have to add that in comparison with some authorities (one joint organisation with 2.2m population with 1 investigation in 7 years and it is current) in comparison your trading standards unit is far far away from being inactive in the area.

I hope that you will now reconsider you position and revert in due course

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

Yours faithfully,

Mark Doyle

Information Compliance, Manchester City Council

Dear Mr Doyle
Re: Request for Information - Internal Review - Reference
No: GAN/AT7H7F-IR
Thank you for your email dated 15 December 2017  regarding the Council's
response to your request for information.
Your email will be treated as a request for internal review of that
original decision and will be dealt with in accordance with the Council’s
Access to Information Complaint Procedure.  The procedure is available on
the Council’s web site at    
[1]http://www.manchester.gov.uk/downloads/d...
Please note your request will be handled as speedily as possible and a
response should be issued no later than 17 January 2018. 
Yours sincerely
Cieran Cassidy
Democratic Services
PO Box 532
Town Hall
Manchester
M60 2LA
Email:     [2][Manchester City Council request email]
[3]www.manchester.gov.uk

show quoted sections

Manchester City Council

3 Attachments

Dear Mr Doyle,
Re: - Request for Information – Trading standards investigations carried
out in relation to letting agents and property management companies in the
past 5 years – Internal Review of Response

I refer to your correspondence dated 15 December 2017 in which you raised
concerns with the response provided by Manchester City Council, also dated
15 December 2017. As a result the Council has carried out an Internal
Review into the handling of your Request for Information.

Your original request

In your original request, which was received on 17 November 2017, you asked
for the following information:

Would you please supply the following information under the Freedom of
Information Act. The number of trading standards investigations carried out
in relation to letting agents and property management companies in the past
5 years. If the number of investigations is less than 15, please extend
the period to 10 years. With the data please expand using the following
criteria:

What was the exact nature of those investigations and outcome on a case by
case basis and who were the alleged offending agents involved in those
cases. With this in mind please clarify the investigations using the
following format taking note of the examples.

Date: xx/xxxx
Company: ABC Agents
Offence/s: Breach of section xx of xxxx Act /Reg xxxx
Nature of Offence: Misleading action/Omission/Money Laundering/Failure to
Register for Redress Scheme
Action Taken: Warning Issued/Court Proceedings Taken (Outcome)/ Referred to
Police/SFO/CMA/ Or Relevant comment

Date: xx/xxxx
Company: (Under Investigation)
Offence/s: Breach of section xx of xxxx Act /Reg xxxx
Nature of Offence: Misleading action/Omission/Money Laundering/Failure to
Register for Redress Scheme
Action Taken: Under Investigation/Proceeding With Court Case/Referred to
Police/SFO/CMA/Or Relevant Comment

It is understood that disclosure of any company’s details is not covered by
the DPA and therefore cannot be withheld unless there is a current ongoing
investigation (not outstanding due to disappearance) against the company.
In stating this exception only applies to ongoing investigations and does
not preclude the company being named relating to previous investigations.
If there is an ongoing investigation then please indicate the investigation
type and omit the company’s name.

Finally, the release of this information is in the public interest and
appreciate your cooperation in this matter.

The Council responded as follows:

1. The number of trading standards investigations carried out in relation
to letting agents and property management companies in the past 5 years.
If the number of investigations is less than 15, please extend the period
to 10 years.

There have been 95 trading standards investigations carried out in relation
to letting agents and property management companies in the past 5 years.

2. What was the exact nature of those investigations and outcome on a case
by case basis and who were the alleged offending agents involved in those
cases. With this in mind please clarify the investigations using the
following format taking note of the examples.

Please find the following information in the spreadsheet attached: date;
offence/s: breach of Act /Reg; nature of offence: action taken: case closed
or still being investigated.

(Embedded image moved to file: pic30512.jpg) spreadsheet for release.xlsx
(See attached file: spreadsheet for release.xlsx)

The spreadsheet does not include names of the businesses investigated as
this information is exempt from disclosure under Section 44 (1) (a) of FOI
Act. Section 44(1)(a) exempts information where its disclosure is
prohibited by other legislation. The name of the business is exempt because
its disclosure is prohibited under Part 9 Section 237 of the Enterprise
Act, 2002.

Section 44 is an absolute exemption and so is not subject to the Public
Interest Test.

Your Internal Review request

In your request for an Internal Review you stated the following:

“The request to the council is 1 of over 50 identical requests were made
across all London Boroughs and top 20 populated councils in England.

That all councils with a per capita, rental property and relative business
coefficient have in the main replied and adhered to the request in the
format required.

That the use of the act and or acts to withhold cannot be applied in order
to present a refusal of disclosure. Apart from potential misinterpretation
and or unreasonable use, the imposition is superseded due to a number of
factors, including but not exclusively the following.
- Other councils interpretation and setting precedent by issuing company
and trader names in the request which can be found on Whatdotheyknow.com
and in your proximity Leicester City Council

- The naming of companies receiving fixed penalties relating to publication
of fees under the acts described in your response that are in the public
domain, such as Foxtons receiving a number of fixed penalties by councils
in London.

- Your own council and other council environmental health units carrying
out inspections and the issuing hygiene standard ratings notices to
publicly display the level of compliance in the windows of those
businesses. Therefore these notices to state the degree of compliance are
made public without any legal action being taken or indeed indicating that
it will take place. The notices of compliance and penalties issued to
Lettings Agents and Property Management Companies are de facto binary
notices of compliance or non-compliance and those traders names should be
divulged in the public interest. By doing and contrary to Hygiene notices,
will have no adverse affect on those businesses should they become
compliant and should they remain non-compliant, then the council can issue
a penalty which should be divulged as the company clearly shows that it is
willing to breach legislation and regulation which is on public record,
ergo failure of compliance in hygiene as an example, this can also be
construed as being under investigation as there are constant compliance
checks being carried out and premised investigated for breaches.
Therefore failing to disclose is fundamentally disproportionate and
prejudicially favourable to property sector companies and a breach in
itself.

- That it is in the public interest that disclosure be made and failure to
do so gives licence for bad business practices to be pursued by those
companies and or sector as the public record of legislative and regulatory
breaches are being unreasonably withheld.

The information is required to ascertain the level of enforcement and areas
which are being approached, therefore it is important that the data is
furnished in the entirety to avert the misreporting of such complaints.
For example being described as investigated when there has just been a
legitimate response and advice given relating to a complainant and or
citing multiple complaints as investigations relating to the same trader
and or company for the same and or repeated offence from the same group of
people on a regular basis. In your case, you have not differentiated the
traders by citation of sections 30 and 44 and not denoting or
differentiating the names could be translated that it could be 1 or 95
traders relating to 1 or 95 different breaches against 1 or 95 complaints.
Furthermore, with disclosure it is easier to differentiate cited
investigations relating to different traders and the standard compliance
checks and or statutory membership to a stipulated redress scheme,
publication of fees and or other breach which often take place in a finite
time period and possibly related to a policy directive than complaint.

Given that only a minority of 53 requests made have reverted to the
wholesale and unreasonable withholding, misinterpretation of the act and or
as in your response, forwarding unsubstantiated entries not in accordance
with a request was designed to obtain an informed response with clarity of
content that would be achievable within the scope of the act as well as
time constraints and costs.
If you are in doubt this can be achieved, I ask that you review the
responses of the City of Leicester and the London Borough of Croydon for
examples of comparative and achievable responses under identical requests
and conditions.

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

Given the above and proof that the request can be achieved within the
parameters set out in the act in accordance of the request, I ask that an
internal review be untaken and the request be responded to which the
formats supplied by either Croydon or Leicester are acceptable as
responses, to which the information supplied has gone some way. And please
note that in Leicester’s response they have supplied all the comparative
information to which you have refused citing legislation. I have to add
that in comparison with some authorities (one joint organisation with 2.2m
population with 1 investigation in 7 years and it is current) in
comparison your trading standards unit is far far away from being inactive
in the area.

I hope that you will now reconsider you position and revert in due course.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the
Internet at this address:
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t...

My investigation findings

I have reviewed the response and my findings are presented below.

Your request was correctly considered under the Freedom of Information Act
and information in relation to question 1 was released. In respect of
question 2 not all the information that you requested was disclosed. A
response to the following elements was disclosed: date of offence/s;
offence/s: breach of Act /Reg; nature of offence: action taken: case closed
or still being investigated.

We withheld from disclosure the names of the businesses investigated, under
Section 44(1)(a) of FOI Act. Section 44(1)(a) exempts information where its
disclosure is prohibited by other legislation. In this case, we considered
that disclosure of name of the business is prohibited under Part 9 Section
237 of the Enterprise Act, 2002. As Section 44 is an absolute exemption the
Public Interest Test was not applied.

I have considered whether this exemption was correctly applied.

Section 237 of the Enterprise Act, 2002, states that ‘specified
information’ that relates to any business of an undertaking must not be
disclosed whilst that undertaking continues in existence. Section 238 of
the Act defines ‘specified information’ as information that has come to a
public authority in connection with the exercise of any function it has
under or by virtue of:

a) Part 1, 3, 4, 6, 7 or 8 (of the Enterprise Act)

b) an enactment specified in Schedule 14

c) such subordinate legislation as the Secretary of State may by order
specify for the purposes of this subsection

The Estate Agents Act 1979 and the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Act
2007 are specified in Schedule 14. The Consumer Protection from Unfair
Trading Regulations 2008 are specified in Schedule 3 of the Enterprise Act
2002 (Part 9 Restrictions on Disclosure of Information)(Amendment and
Specification) Order 2003. The Companies Act 2006 and the Estate Agents Act
1979 are specified in Part 1 of the Schedule ‘Specified Acts or Omissions’
of The Enterprise Act 2002 (Part 8 Domestic Infringements) Order 2003.
Therefore we are unable to disclose the names of the businesses in
connection with our enforcement of any of these pieces of legislation.

Our review has determined that some of the legislation we investigated
letting agents under was not specified in the legislation referred to above
and therefore we are releasing the names of businesses in those cases (see
attached spreadsheet).

(See attached file: FOIA GANAT7H7F-IR spreadsheet for release with names
final.xlsx)

The names of individuals and sole traders have not been disclosed as they
are exempt from disclosure under exemption Section 40(2) of the Act,
sub-section 40(3)(a)(i) and should not be released into the ‘public
domain’.

Section 40 – Third Party Information

40.— Personal information.

(2) Any information to which a request for information relates is also
exempt information if—

(a) It constitutes personal data which do not fall within subsection (1),
and

(b) Either the first or the second condition below is satisfied.

(3) The first condition is—

(a) in a case where the information falls within any of paragraphs (a) to
(d) of the definition of “data” in section 1(1) of the Data Protection
Act 1998, that the disclosure of the information to a member of the
public otherwise than under this Act would contravene—

(i) Any of the data protection principles

A public authority can only disclose personal data in response to an FoIA
request if to do so would be fair, lawful and meet one of the conditions
in Schedule 2 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (and in the case of
sensitive personal data, a condition in Schedule 3). Upon review of the
requested information, I am satisfied that it includes personal data of
third parties and that releasing this data would not be fair or lawful.
This exemption is not subject to the public interest test.

Your points of comparison regarding compliance checks and inspections of
letting agents and property management companies are considerations that
are outside the scope of this request and subsequent internal review. As
Section 44 is an absolute exemption the public interest test does not
apply.

In conclusion I accept that some of the legislation we investigated letting
agents under was not specified in legislation and therefore we should have
released this information to you. I apologise for this and we are now
releasing the names of businesses in those cases.

However for the reasons outlined above we are unable to release all of the
information you requested.

I hope the above adequately explains the Council's position.

If you remain dissatisfied following this internal review, you have a right
to apply to the Information Commissioner (IC) for a decision. The
Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

Fiona Sharkey
Strategic Lead Compliance, Enforcement and Community Safety
The Neighbourhoods Service
Growth and Neighbourhoods
Manchester City Council

show quoted sections

We don't know whether the most recent response to this request contains information or not – if you are Mark please sign in and let everyone know.

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