Trading Standards Investigations into Lettings Agents and Property Managers

The request was partially successful.

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 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 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

Freedom of Information Act, Barnet Borough Council

This is an automated message.

Thank you for contacting Barnet Council's FOI team. If you have submitted an FOI request someone will be in touch with you shortly with your case number so that you know who in the council is dealing with your enquiry.

We aim to provide a full response to a valid FOI request within 20 working days, where this is not possible we will keep you informed of progress.

If you are emailing about another matter, one of the team will be in touch with you within 2 working days.

Seral Mustafa,

 
Information request
Our reference: 4003497

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Dear Mr Doyle,
 
Environmental Information Regulations 2004
 
Thank you for your request for information that was received on 3 November
2017 

  

We will deal with your request under the Environmental Information
Regulations 2004

 

Under the Act we must respond promptly and in any event within 20 working
days from the date we received your request.  We will respond to you by 4
December 2017

 

Please note the Act defines a limited set of exemptions from the right to
know.  If we decide not to release any information we shall explain why,
which exemption we are relying on and how you can appeal.

Please note: If you receive a request from us for clarification of your
request please respond to it by the date given.  We will not be able to
process your request if you do not provide the clarification asked for.

 

Yours faithfully
 
 
Seral Mustafa
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South,
London N11 1NP
Barnet Online: [1]www.barnet.gov.uk
All our [2]Information Management Policies  are on the internet. 
 

References

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2. https://www.barnet.gov.uk/citizen-home/c...

Richard Carter,

2 Attachments

 
Information request
Our reference: 4003497

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Dear Sir/Madam
 
Thank you for your request for information received on 3 November 2017.
 
Please find attached our response to your request.

If you reply to this email please do not amend the subject line or your
email will not go into the case and there will be a delay in it being
received by us.

 
Yours faithfully
 
 
Richard Carter
Information Management Officer
Commissioning Group
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South,
London N11 1NP
Barnet Online: [1]www.barnet.gov.uk
All our [2]Information Management Policies  are on the internet. 
 

References

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2. https://www.barnet.gov.uk/citizen-home/c...

Dear Barnet Borough Council,

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

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

The request to the council is 1 of 53 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.

The information that you have supplied and time described in order to transpose the data to the response required is not conducive with comparative councils, in your case Leicester City which have supplied the same information to an identical request.

Moreover that in data received so far stating claimed investigations numbers are in fact being misreported in some instances. Closer inspection has revealed they are in fact complaints received with advice given or referred on without investigation by the trading standards department.

That the information should be available for easily accessible intelligence on complaints, companies, investigations and outcome in order to ascertain developing problem areas in which further action may be required. Furthermore it is a source of key information that can be shared with other trading standards units in London and if need be the UK

In relation to uses of the practice of citation of various sections of the FOI and Enterprise acts to withhold information and that the use of the act and or acts, especially in respect of FOI sections, 30, 44 and 45 to withhold and the Enterprise act part 9, cannot be applied in this request in order to present a refusal of disclosure as to do so would contravene standard practice in other areas. Apart from potential misinterpretation and or unreasonable use, the imposition is superseded and nullified 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 such as 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 significant 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. Example in the is case, investigations and 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 which do have an adverse affect on the company, disclosure 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 and damage to reputation is self inflicted, ergo failure of compliance in hygiene as an example. Ongoing hygiene checks 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 in other sectors of business fundamentally disproportionate bias, an unfair practice in itself and prejudicially favourable to property sector companies and a breach.

- That it is in the public interest that full 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 putting consumers and or tenants at risk to financial loss or indeed loss of their home..

The information is required to avert the misreporting of such complaints being described as investigated when they have just been a legitimate response to complainant and or citing multiple complaints as investigations relating to the same trader and or company for the same and or repeated offence and in your case withholding details and just listing complaints rendering the information supplied as misleading and potentially contrived and padded. Some councils have consolidated complaints into single investigations rendering a truer picture as the question relates to those being investigated, not the number of complaints received.

Given that only a minority of requests have reverted to the unreasonable withholding, misinterpretation of act and or acts and additionally in your response, forwarding unsubstantiated and or misleading data and or figures not in accordance with the request, those refusals are being challenged. The reason being that the 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. Furthermore the information should be ready available for performance and scrutiny purposes as well as a useful intelligence snapshot in which to make an informed appraisal of historic and ongoing offences and or complaints, no matter which sector the businesses are in.

If you are in doubt this request 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, I request 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.

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

Freedom of Information Act, Barnet Borough Council

This is an automated message.

Thank you for contacting Barnet Council's FOI team. If you have submitted an FOI request someone will be in touch with you shortly with your case number so that you know who in the council is dealing with your enquiry.

We aim to provide a full response to a valid FOI request within 20 working days, where this is not possible we will keep you informed of progress.

If you are emailing about another matter, one of the team will be in touch with you within 2 working days.

 
Information request
Our reference: 4003497

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Dear Sir/Madam
 
Thank you for your request for a review received on 19 December 2017. I’m
sorry to hear that you are unhappy with the council’s response to your
information request.
               
We will now conduct an internal review.  The review will be independent
and impartial, will reconsider the merits of the case and will identify
any errors in the handling of your request.
 
We aim to complete internal reviews promptly and in any event within 20
working days from receipt of a complaint.  In exceptional cases we may
take longer, but we will not exceed 40 working days.  This is in line
with  guidance issued by the Information Commissioner.  
 
If, following our review, you are still unhappy with the way we have
applied the Act, you can appeal directly to the Information Commissioner
at: The Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF (telephone: 08456 30 60 60 or 01625 54 57 45;
website: [1]https://ico.org.uk/). There is no charge for making an appeal.
 
Yours faithfully
 
 
Jon Hill
Transparency & Open Data Officer
Information Management Team
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South,
London N11 1NP
Barnet Online: [2]www.barnet.gov.uk
All our [3]Information Management Policies  are on the internet. 
 

References

Visible links
1. https://ico.org.uk/
2. http://www.barnet.gov.uk/
3. https://www.barnet.gov.uk/citizen-home/c...

1 Attachment

 
Information request
Our reference: 4003497

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Sir/Madam
 
I write further to our email acknowledging your request for an internal
review into the handling of your request for information. 
 
You have requested an internal review of the Council’s response in
relation to your request (attached).  I have undertaken the internal
review and the outcome of my review is set out below.
 
Response
 

I shall take the points raised in your request for review in turn.

The request to the council is 1 of 53 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.

The information that you have supplied and time described in order to
transpose the data to the response required is not conducive with
comparative councils, in your case Leicester City which have supplied the
same information to an identical request.

It should be noted that councils do not have uniform recording databases
or document management systems. Even where councils have some cosmetic
similarities (such as your comparison with Leicester, above), internal
processes may be widely different. In the case of Barnet, information is
not held in a format that is conducive to easy retrieval. I have
investigated and confirmed with the service that the required data is not
readily accessible, as it may well be in Leicester, and the time taken to
retrieve it would therefore exceed the appropriate limit.

Moreover that in data received so far stating claimed investigations
numbers are in fact being misreported in some instances. Closer inspection
has revealed they are in fact complaints received with advice given or
referred on without investigation by the trading standards department.

That the information should be available for easily accessible
intelligence on complaints, companies, investigations and outcome in order
to ascertain developing problem areas in which further action may be
required. Furthermore it is a source of key information that can be shared
with other trading standards units in London and if need be the UK

Whilst I acknowledge your views with regard to the need for easily
accessible intelligence in Trading Standards, his review can only decide
on the basis of the current situation, and currently Trading Standards
systems and processes do not allow for easy access to this data. I
therefore uphold the council’suse of section 12 of the FOIA in its
response to this element of your request.

In relation to uses of the practice of citation of various sections of the
FOI and Enterprise acts to withhold information and that the use of the
act and or acts, especially in respect of FOI sections, 30, 44 and 45 to
withhold and the Enterprise act part 9, cannot be applied in this request
in order to present a refusal of disclosure as to do so would contravene
standard practice in other areas. Apart from potential misinterpretation
and or unreasonable use, the imposition is superseded and nullified 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 such
as 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 significant 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. Example in the is case, investigations and 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 which do have an adverse affect on the
company, disclosure 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 and damage to reputation is self inflicted, ergo
failure of compliance in hygiene as an example. Ongoing hygiene checks 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 in other sectors of business
fundamentally disproportionate bias, an unfair practice in itself and
prejudicially favourable to property sector companies and a breach.

That it is in the public interest that full disclosure be made and failure
to do so give

The response provided by the council did not cite sections 30, 44 and 45
of the FOIA, therefore it is not entirely clear what you are appealing in
this instance. The exemption applied was section 43(2), which applies to
information the release of which would be prejudicial to commercial
interests. This review will therefore assume that you are appealing this.

This review notes the examples of precedent you describe. However, these
precedents are neither binding on the council, nor are they specifically
relevant to the information under discussion. This review finds the public
interest test in support of the section 43(2) exemption to be appropriate
and proportionate. A supporting factor in addition to this is that the
application of section 12 to the additional data you request (see above),
frees the final data from context. Companies would just be seen to have
been subject to investigations. The inability to provide details of these
individual investigations means that assumptions could be made about these
companies which may be unfair, and could therefore unfairly prejudice
their commercial interests. I therefore uphold the council’s use of
section 43(2) in refusing the release of this data.

 
Your rights
 
If you remain dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have a
right to appeal to the Information Commissioner at:
The Information Commissioner's Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane,
Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF
 
Telephone: 0303 123 1113
Website: [1]www.ico.org.uk 
There is no charge for making an appeal.
 
Yours faithfully
 
 
Jon Hill
Transparency & Open Data Officer
Information Management Team
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South,
London N11 1NP
Barnet Online: [2]www.barnet.gov.uk
All our [3]Information Management Policies  are on the internet. 
 

References

Visible links
1. http://www.ico.org.uk/
2. http://www.barnet.gov.uk/
3. https://www.barnet.gov.uk/citizen-home/c...

Dear Barnet Borough Council,

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

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

This request has been sent to over 50 councils and like Barnet, less than an handful reverted to misuse of the acts to withhold information all of which have been given the choice to be pursued through the ICO or comply with the request.

Your response and refusal is undermined by simple facts. Firstly it is in the public interest with the vast majority of respondents supplying all information requested. The reasons are simple that a section 43 is flawed as councils in effect demand that food outlets publicly display there level of compliance in their business premises for all customers and competitors to see. Given this ongoing and regularly used precedent is contrary to section 43 insists that by actions of Barnet and other councils section 43 no longer to be applicable and or enforceable.

Secondly the use of a section 12 is also unreasonable as to estimate and or calculate the time to carry out the task requires that the number of cases which have been investigated has to be a known fact. Given that no indications have been made it seems that there are grounds to complain on frivolous refusal. Again there have been over 50 identical requests to which the vast majority have complied.

Furthermore I draw your attention to the fact that under the CPRs and CRA Barnet Council is considered as a business and are subject to the same prohibitions including those relating to misleading omission and or actions, which includes the supply of information to the public.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/t... and you will also find the other 50+ identical requests on the site which will be used to further substantiate a a formal complaint to the ICO should the formation not be forthcoming.

I trust now that this clarifies the position and I look forward to receiving the information forthwith

Yours faithfully,

Mark Doyle

Freedom of Information Act, Barnet Borough Council

This is an automated message.

Thank you for contacting Barnet Council's FOI team. If you have submitted an FOI request someone will be in touch with you shortly with your case number so that you know who in the council is dealing with your enquiry.

We aim to provide a full response to a valid FOI request within 20 working days, where this is not possible we will keep you informed of progress.

If you are emailing about another matter, one of the team will be in touch with you within 2 working days.

Richard Carter, Barnet Borough Council

1 Attachment

 
Information request
Our reference: 4003497

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Sir/Madam
 
Freedom of Information Act 2000
 
Further to your email of 24 January 2018 I can confirm that you have
exhaused all internal review processes and are free to take your appeal to
the ICO.
 
Please see attached response for details on how to do this under Your
Rights section. 
 
Yours faithfully
 
 
Richard Carter
Information Management Officer
Commissioning Group
London Borough of Barnet, North London Business Park, Oakleigh Road South,
London N11 1NP
Barnet Online: [1]www.barnet.gov.uk
All our [2]Information Management Policies  are on the internet. 
 

References

Visible links
1. http://www.barnet.gov.uk/
2. https://www.barnet.gov.uk/citizen-home/c...

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