Use of Empty Rates Relief for Commercial and Industrial Properties

Response to this request is long overdue. By law, under all circumstances, Brent Borough Council should have responded by now (details). You can complain by requesting an internal review.

Dear Brent Borough Council,

I would like to request responses to the following questions:

1) For how many commercial properties within the London Borough of Brent 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 Brent 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 Brent 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 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.

We are 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.

We look forward to hearing from you on or before 28 February 2018 (this date being the end of the 20 working day period within which you will have to reply). Please ensure your responses are sent by post to Lesley Jones, care of Freedom Press, 84b Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX.

Yours faithfully,

Lesley Jones

Richard Vallis,

Information request
Our reference: 9032096

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Dear Sir/Madam
 
Thank you for your information request. We will forward it to the
relevant department who will contact you shortly.
 
Brent Council
Brent Civic Centre
Engineers Way
Wembley HA9 0FJ
[email address]
 
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