Please note that the Council has previously proactively published a large amount of information in relation to Business Rates, in order to be transparent and accountable and respond efficiently to the large number of Freedom of Information requests received for this type of information. However in light of recent Information Tribunal and Information Commissioner decisions, we have had to review our process for publication of this information.
We refer to the Appeal Decision of the Information Rights First-tier Tribunal - (Appeal Reference Number: EA/2018/0033) (Re Westminster) and the Information Rights First-tier Tribunal – Appeal Reference Number: EA/2018/0055 (Re Sheffield)
In these cases the Tribunal found that information relating to empty properties, the business name, dates of occupation/vacancy and actual annual rates charged engaged the exemptions at section 31, 40(2) and 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
We have considered these exemptions when reviewing the following categories of data held by Bath and North East Somerset Council:
- Business Name
- Correspondence address
- Liability Start Date
- Empty Property Relief (either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ - this information will not be included where it relates to individuals/sole traders/partnerships.)
- Empty Property Relief Start Date
- Empty Property Exemption (either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’)
- Empty Property Exemption Start Date
- All information relating to reliefs
Information relating to sole traders/partnerships is exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) (personal data). The Tribunal decision referred to above confirms that trading names and addresses are personal data as they relate to a living individual and the individual is identifiable from those data. This section of the Act provides an exemption to the general right of access to information, where the disclosure of personal information would breach any of the Data Protection principles. The Council considers that disclosure of this information would constitute a breach of the fairness requirement of the first principle. This is because the individuals in question have not consented to the disclosure of the information. In addition they have a reasonable expectation that the Council will keep their information confidential.
We believe that the withheld information also engages the exemption at section 31 of the Act. We consider that disclosure of this information would increase the risk of fraud and that the provision of a list of empty properties would make it easier for criminals to identify targets for property crimes. As a result we consider that disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice the prevention of crime.
Although the Council aim to be transparent and accountable to the public, we consider that the limited public interest in disclosure is outweighed by the very significant public interest in maintaining the exemption. We consider that disclosure of this detail into the public domain would increase the risk of both fraudulent activities relating to account information and increase the risk of squatting and or criminal damage in relation to empty properties.
We also consider that section 41 of the act is also engaged. This information contains the status of individual ratepayer accounts and can include the name, property and billing address, periods of liability, contact telephone numbers, and whether exemptions and reliefs might have been applied to those accounts.
This information was provided to the Council with an expectation of confidence for the purposes of calculating rates or reliefs. We consider that the withheld information is more than trivial in nature and is not accessible to the public by other means. The information was provided to the Council in relation to the Council’s duty to collect council tax. As a result, we consider that we owe a duty to the providers of that information not to use it for purposes other than that for which it was provided.
Although the Council aims to be transparent and accountable to the public, we believe that taking into account recent Decision Notices and Tribunal decisions, there is insufficient public interest to warrant the disclosure of information which has been provided to the Council with the expectation of confidence. Additionally, we consider that this information contains personal data that we are unable to disclose, together with information which if disclosed would increase the risk of fraudulent activity relating to business rates accounts and squatting or criminal damage re. empty properties.
As a result, we are unable to disclose this information at this particular time.
Please note that the following information is already available in the public domain via the Valuation Office:
- Property Reference
- Description of the Property (e.g. ‘Hall and Premises’ ‘Store & Premises etc.)
- Property Address (with any personal data removed)
- Current Rateable Value
- Current Rateable Value Effective Date
Please see information at: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/valuation-office-agency