council-owned buildings (FOI-6190)
Dear ***** *****
Re: Freedom of Information Request /Environmental Information Request
Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, received 5 July 2020. Your request has been considered and our response is in bold below.
You requested the following:
Could you please tell me how many council-owned buildings are currently unoccupied, how long they"ve been empty for, and what sort of building they are?
The Council’s Response
We confirm that whilst the Council holds the information within the scope of your request, it considers this information exempt from disclosure under Section 31, of the Freedom of Information Act. It is important to emphasise that in this context, any information disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act is a disclosure into the public domain over which the Council can exercise no control. It is not merely disclosure to the requester. It is this perspective which must be taken into account, and when discussing the risks of harm, the Council should not be taken to be meaning that it believes the requester personally will, or may, take the relevant action.
Section 31(1)(a) – Prevention of Crime
You have requested information to identify empty properties. The Council takes the view that this information is exempt under section 31(1)(a) ‘Law enforcement ’, of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which states:
“Information which is not exempt information by virtue of section 31 is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime.”
We have applied Section 31 (1) (a) to your request because of the risk of increased crime that would likely occur if a list of empty properties was released to the wider public under a freedom of information request. We consider that the public disclosure of the requested information would likely increase the risk to empty properties of illegal entry and illegal use if entered.
Empty properties are often associated with criminal activity from organised local gangs and whilst squatting itself is not an offence, it is associated with criminal activity. Disclosure of the list would be of use to squatters and would, on a balance of probability, lead to significant harm in the form of criminal activity such as vandalism. It is also likely that organised gangs would use the information for criminal purposes. Further, such properties may be exposed to a greater risk of arson or criminal damage.
In the case of the First-tier Tribunal on Information Rights (EA/2018/0176) between Suresh Singh and The Information Commissioner and The London Borough of Hackney, the Tribunal unanimously dismissed the Appeal, and confirmed that section 31(1) a is engaged with respect to publishing the locations of empty properties in the borough. The Tribunal judges found a real and significant risk that property crime would be made easier and therefore more likely to occur by the release of the list. They also concluded that there is a substantial public interest in not making crime easier.
We accept that there is some public interest in knowing how local properties are used and occupied and that such information may be useful for a variety of purposes including, for example, demographic research. We also understand the pressing issue of bringing empty properties back into use where this is possible.
However on balance, we consider that there is a greater public interest in the withholding of the information due to the safety considerations of the public. This concurs with the Tribunal’s ruling that the relatively limited public interest in disclosing the list is outweighed by the significant public interest in maintaining the exemption.
Appeals & Complaints Procedure
If you are dissatisfied with this response and wish to appeal, please reply to this email and this will be dealt with through our Internal Review procedure.
Your request should be submitted to us within 40 working days of receipt by you of this response. Any 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"s:
Information Commissioner"s Office
0303 123 1113
Information Management Team
London Borough of Hackney