Empty Residential Properties (FOI-4789)
Dear ***** *****
Re: Freedom of Information Request.
Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, received 7 November 2019. Your request has been considered and our response is in bold below.
You requested the following:
I would please appreciate if i could be sent a list of empty residential properties and there area codes . Properties which have been vacant for more than six to twelve months. As I am looking for a list of long term 2/ 3 bedroom empty property lists within the councils area. Would you be able to supply me with these under the Freedom of Information Act? I require do not require personal information simply the property address.
The Council’s Response
The Council has now considered your request and although it does hold the information, after reviewing the guidance provided by the Information Commissioner it has concluded that, (with the exception of certain Council-owned empty commercial properties which are listed under:http://www.hackney.gov.uk/xr-property-services-592.htm#), information relating to empty properties is exempt from disclosure under Section 31 of the Freedom of Information Act.
It is important to emphasise here that whilst your own motives for requesting this information are certainly not in question, any information given under the Freedom of Information Act is a response into the public domain as a whole and not merely to you, the applicant. It is this perspective that must therefore be taken into account.
Section 31(1)(a) – Prevention of Crime
The Council considers that the addresses of empty properties are exempt from disclosure on the basis of Section 31(1)(a) (prejudice to the prevention or detection of crime). Given this, then all empty property information that the Council holds is deemed to be exempt information on the basis of Section 31(1)(a).
In regards to potentially identifying empty properties then the London Borough of Hackney has previously experienced instances of squatting in the past and recognises that this can lead to criminal activities and damage to those properties. Consequently, as the Council has specific evidence that empty properties have been targeted for crime, for instance arson, and that this had potentially led to endangerment, the Council considers that the exemption is plainly engaged. Disclosure into the public domain via a published response would likely enable properties to be identified too easily and this increases the risk of such properties being targeted for criminal activity, including arson, metal theft, waste dumping/fly tipping abstraction of utilities, etc.
As stated above, disclosure could also enable anti-social behaviour such as squatting in empty properties, associated neighbourhood complaints, and endangerment to life and health by urban exploring and other trespass. These matters may not all be crimes in themselves, but they do form part of the general public interest balance.
Providing a list that identifies empty properties would provide those intent on committing crimes associated with such properties with an easy way to identify them. The resultant prejudice, which the Council believes would occur, is one that can be categorised as one that would be real and of substance.
Public interest in maintaining the exemption
- It is not in the public interest to disclose information that aids individuals to commit crimes.
- It is not in the public interest to disclose information that could aid fraud on the public purse.
- It is not in the public interest to disclose information that aids individuals to carry out non-criminal but unlawful action, such as trespass.
Public interest in disclosure of the information
- Disclosure could provide the public with a slightly greater insight into the Council’s administration of the Council Tax system.
Balance of the public interest
There is no public interest argument in favour of specifically disclosing empty property information in relation to individual addresses. Whilst the overall numbers of empty properties might be of some statistical interest, it is unlikely that the addresses and specific information relating to the empty property itself would carry the same interest for the public as a whole.
Release of the specific details of each empty property cannot in itself provide any more relevance in terms of public interest than just the provision of the total numbers, but could result in details of those properties that either are, or are likely to become, empty being utilised for purposes other than that for which the information was intended.
It would be fair to observe that disclosure might provide some limited insight into the administration of Council Tax by the Council. However, in contrast, the public interest in preventing crime and other anti-social behaviour is very strong indeed. The Council is firmly of the view that such interests are outweighed by the public interest in ensuring that criminals are not aided in identifying and using published lists of empty properties in the London Borough of Hackney for crime.
The public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the addresses of the empty properties and the section 31(1)(a) exemption has therefore been applied. In support of this decision, the Council refers to the Information Commissioner’s Office decision FS50671834, relating to Mr David Hunter v London Borough of Tower Hamlets, in which the Commissioner determined that the application of Section 31(1)(a) was correctly applied.
I would also draw your attention to the fact that Hackney’s view regarding the release of information relating to empty properties was recently endorsed by the Information Commissioner, who upheld Hackney Council’s stance by rejecting a challenge that had been made against a previous refusal to disclose this information.
Appeals & Complaints Procedure
If you are dissatisfied with this response and wish to appeal, please write to the Information Management Team and this will be dealt with through our Internal Review procedure.
Information Management Team - Governance
London Borough of Hackney
Hackney Service Centre
1 Hillman Street
London E8 1DY
Your request for an internal review should be submitted to us within 40 working days of receipt by you of this response. Any such request received after this time will only be considered at the discretion of the Council.
If you are still not satisfied following the Internal Review, you have a right to appeal to the Information Commissioner at the contact details provided below.
Information Commissioner"s Office
Telephone: 01625 545 700
Information Management Team
London Borough of Hackney