Business Rates Freedom of Information requests
We have previously published a large amount of information in relation to business rates in order to be transparent, accountable and to respond efficiently to the large number of Freedom of Information requests that we receive. However, in light of recent Information Tribunal and Information Commissioner decisions, we have decided this information will no longer be disclosed either on our website or in response to Freedom of Information requests.
We consider the following categories of business rate data held by the council to be exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the 2000 Act):
- Business name
- Correspondence address and contact details
- Liability start date or end dates
- All information relating to exemptions and reliefs
- Rates due and rates actually paid
- Empty property details
- Credit balances
- Amounts written on or written off
The reason is that this information engages some or all of the exemptions under Sections 31, 40(2) and 41 of the 2000 Act. See below for more details of these exemptions.
In arriving at this decision we have considered the following cases:
- The Appeal Decision of the Information Rights First-tier Tribunal – (Appeal Reference Number: EA/2018/0033) (Westminster)
- The Information Rights First-tier Tribunal – Appeal Reference Number: EA/2018/0055 (Sheffield)
- The Information Commissioners Office decision reference FS50873141 (Cornwall)
Exemptions under the 2000 Act we believe are engaged for withholding business rate details:
Section 40(2) – Personal data. Information relating to sole traders/partnerships is exempt from disclosure under Section 40(2). The Tribunal decisions 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.
Section 31 – Prevention of crime. We consider that disclosure of empty property 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. Disclosure of credit balances, write offs and write ons also exposes both the council and businesses to the risk of fraud. As a result, we consider that disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice the prevention of crime. Although we aim to be transparent and accountable to the public, we consider that the limited wider public interest in disclosure is outweighed by the very significant public interest in maintaining the exemption.
Section 41 – Information provided in confidence. This 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 to arrive at an amount payable. We consider that the withheld information is more than trivial in nature and is not accessible to the public by other means. This is exemption is not subject to the public interest test, but section 41(b) has an assumption that the public interest in maintaining the duty of confidence will prevail unless the public interest in disclosure outweighs maintaining that duty. The council recognises the public interest in openness and transparency however, we consider this does not outweigh the stronger case against disclosure.
Information already available
The following information is already available in the public domain via the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). Please note the council is prohibited under section 44(1)(a) of the 2000 Act from disclosing information received from the VOA.
- Property reference
- Description of the property (e.g. ‘Hall and Premises’ ‘Store and Premises etc.)
- Property address (with any personal data removed)
- Current rateable value
- Current rateable value effective date
For more information on finding business rates valuations, visit the Valuation Office Agency.