Use of Empty Rates Relief for Commercial and Industrial Properties

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Dear Westminster City Council,
I would like to request responses to the following questions:
1) For how many commercial properties within the London Borough of Westminster 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 London Borough of Westminster 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 London Borough of Westminster 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

Westminster City Council

Information request
Our reference: 6910336

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Dear Mr Jones
 
Thank you for contacting Westminster City Council's Information Management
Team. 

Your query will be allocated for response, and someone will contact you
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Kindest regards, 
 
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Westminster City Council

Information request
Our reference: 6910336

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

 
Dear Mr Jones
 
Freedom of Information Act 2000
 
Thank you for your request for information that was received on 21
February 2018.
 
Request summary
 
I would like to request responses to the following questions:
1) For how many commercial properties within the London Borough of
Westminster 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 London Borough of
Westminster 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 London Borough of Westminster 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.
 
 
We are dealing with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000
and we aim to send a response by 21 March 2018.
 
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 may restrict the release of some or
all of the information you have requested. We will carry out an assessment
and if any exemptions apply to some or all of the information then we
might not provide that information to you. We will inform you if this is
the case and advise you of your rights to request an internal review and
to complain to the Information Commissioner's Office.
 
We will also advise you if we cannot provide you with the information
requested for any other reason together with the reason(s) why and details
of how you may appeal (if appropriate).
 
Yours sincerely
 
 
Westminster City Council
Email: [1][Westminster City Council request email]
Web: [2]www.westminster.gov.uk
 
NOTE: Please do not edit the subject line when replying to this email.

References

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Westminster City Council

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Information request
Our reference: 6910336

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Dear Mr Jones
 
Thank you for your request for information received on 21 February 2018.
 
Please find attached our response to your request.

If you are dissatisfied with your response please send your Internal
Review request to the email address below

[1][Westminster City Council request email]

 
Yours sincerely
 
 
Parmeen Sarda
Westminster City Council
Tel: 0207 641 3921
Email: [email address]
Web: [2]www.westminster.gov.uk
 
NOTE: Please do not reply to this email.

References

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