Use of Empty Rates Relief for Commercial and Industrial Properties

The request was successful.

Dear Greenwich Borough Council,
I would like to request responses to the following questions: 
1) For how many commercial properties within the Royal Borough of Greenwich have there been multiple applications for empty rates relief in the past three years with a time lapse of no less than approximately four and a half months between applications? 
2) For how many industrial properties within the Royal Borough of Greenwich have there been multiple applications for empty rates relief in the past three years with a time lapse of no less than approximately seven and a half months between applications? 
3) What are the addresses of the properties covered by your answers to questions (1) and (2) above? 
4) Who are the proprietors of the properties covered by your answers to questions (1) and (2) above? 
5) For each proprietor covered by your response to question (4), what is their interest in the property (for example, freehold or leasehold)? 
6) For each proprietor covered by your response to question (4), are they a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)? 
7) If the applicants for empty rates relief for the properties covered by your answers to questions (1) and (2) above are not the proprietors of those properties, who are the applicants? 
8) For each of the properties mentioned in your answers to the questions above, on what date did the Royal Borough of Greenwich receive the most recent application for empty rates relief, and was such relief granted? 
Alternatively, if you already operate a publication scheme for any of the information requested above, please can you let me know where and how I can access this scheme in order to obtain that information? Of course, for any information requested above that is not part of a publication scheme, I would still like to receive that information from you by way of this Freedom of Information request. 
I understand that certain landowners are exploiting a loophole in the Non-Domestic Rating (Unoccupied Property) (England) Regulations 2008 to avoid paying business rates for long periods of time while keeping their properties empty. 
An empty commercial or industrial property will be exempt from paying business rates for a certain period of time. After three months (for a commercial property) or six months (for an industrial property) of being empty, the landowner must start paying business rates again. 
I am aware that certain landowners will enter into a lease of at least six weeks at the end of this three or six month period with the sole intention of using this lease to avoid paying business rates for a further three or six months once the lease expires. 
This is done to get around regulation 5 of the Non-Domestic Rating (Unoccupied Property) (England) Regulations 2008, according to which a lease of less than six weeks would not achieve this goal. 
It is worth noting that, despite the six week lease, the property is likely to remain continuously empty by any reasonable definition of the word, as High Court case-law has found that simply installing Bluetooth apparatus into a premises is enough for that property to be “occupied”. 
I trust there will be no issues regarding the ‘personal data’ exemption to disclosing information. I understand that ‘personal data’ is limited to data about identifiable living individuals and does not extend to information about companies or organisations. To the extent that the vast majority of answers you can provide to my questions above will relate to companies and organisations, I expect you will be able to disclose those answers without breaching your obligations under the Data Protection Act. 
However, if you take the view that some of the requested information does constitute ‘personal data’, I trust you will be able to find a way of processing it fairly and lawfully such that you are able to fulfil your duties under the Data Protection Principles. I implore you to find a way of doing so, especially given the public interest in disclosing this information, given its importance to the public discussion on issues such as tax avoidance, homelessness and property speculation. Such importance was recently recognised by Judge Fiona Henderson, who noted in the context of a freedom of information case brought against Camden London Borough Council that “the public interest lies in putting empty properties back into use” and who thereby ordered the disclosure of certain information that would facilitate this. It is suggested that the information requested herein would also facilitate this, by contributing to the public discussion on properties that remain empty and hopefully driving forward public policy proposals that would bring such properties back into use.
Yours faithfully,
L Jones

foi, Greenwich Borough Council

Dear L Jones

Freedom of Information/Environmental Information Regulations request: FOI-11608

Thank you for your request dated February 10, 2018

Your request will be answered by March 12, 2018

If you have any queries about this request, please contact me, quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely,

Jackie Jago
Head of Corporate Services
Corporate Services
Directorate of Central Services
Royal Borough of Greenwich

020 8921 5044
 Room 20 Basement The Town Hall, Wellington Street, London SE18 6PW
www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk

Kind regards,

Rhiannon Hesketh
Research and Projects Officer
Corporate Services
Directorate of Communities and Environment
Royal Borough of Greenwich

020 8921 3982
0 Woolwich Town Hall, Wellington Street, Woolwich SE18 6PW
WWwww.royalgreenwich.gov.uk

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foi, Greenwich Borough Council

Dear Mr Jones,

Freedom of Information Request: FOI-11608

Thank you for your request dated 10th February 2018.

Our response is as follows:

On checking our records I can confirm that the Royal Borough have no commercial properties that have had multiple applications for empty rate relief in the past three years with a time lapse of no less than approximately four and a half months between applications and no industrial properties that have had multiple applications for empty rates relief in the past three years with a time lapse of no less than approximately seven and a half months between applications.

If you have any queries about this correspondence, please contact me, quoting the reference number above.
If you are not satisfied with our response to your request, you can ask for an Internal Review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original request. If you wish to do this, please contact us, setting out why you are dissatisfied.
If you are not satisfied with the outcome of the Internal Review, you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner (ICO) for a decision. Generally, the ICO cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted the Internal Review procedure provided by the Council.
Yours sincerely,

Jackie Jago
Head of Corporate Services
Corporate Services
Directorate of Central Services
Royal Borough of Greenwich

020 8921 5044
 Room 20 Basement The Town Hall, Wellington Street, London SE18 6PW
www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk

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