FOI Request: Business Rate names (FOI-2259)
To whom it may concern I am writing to make an open government request for all the information to which I am entitled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Please send me: A full and up to date list of companies and charities that have become recently liable for business rates between the 1st-15th Dec 2018. Please include the full business name, liable party, full address, date of liability and property type. I would like the above information to be provided to me on an excel spreadsheet. If this request is too wide or unclear, I would be grateful if you could contact me as I understand that under the Act, you are required to advise and assist requesters. If any of this information is already in the public domain, please can you direct me to it, with page references and URLs if necessary. If the release of any of this information is prohibited on the grounds of breach of confidence, I ask that you supply me with copies of the confidentiality agreement and remind you that information should not be treated as confidential if such an agreement has not been signed. I understand that you are required to respond to my request within the 20 working days after you receive this letter. I would be grateful if you could confirm in writing that you have received this request. I look forward to hearing from you. Yours faithfully
Re: Freedom of Information Request.
Thank you for your request for information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, received 17 December 2018. Your request has been considered and our response is in bold below.
You requested the following:
Please send me: A full and up to date list of companies and charities that have become recently liable for business rates between the 1st-15th Dec 2018. Please include the full business name, liable party, full address, date of liability and property type. I would like the above information to be provided to me on an excel spreadsheet. If this request is too wide or unclear, I would be grateful if you could contact me as I understand that under the Act, you are required to advise and assist requesters. If any of this information is already in the public domain, please can you direct me to it, with page references and URLs if necessary. If the release of any of this information is prohibited on the grounds of breach of confidence, I ask that you supply me with copies of the confidentiality agreement and remind you that information should not be treated as confidential if such an agreement has not been signed.
The Council’s Response
Your request has now been considered and we can confirm that whilst the Council does hold the information within the scope of your request, it considers that this information is exempt from disclosure under sections 21, 41 and 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It is important to remain aware in this context that any information disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act is a disclosure into the public domain as a whole 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 action(s) to which reference is made.
Section 21 – Information accessible by other means
Section 21(1) of the Freedom of Information Act states:
“Information which is reasonably accessible to the applicant otherwise than under section 1 is exempt information”
The complete rating lists for the London Borough of Hackney’s area can be found on the Valuation Office Agency’s (“VOA”) website at www.voa.gov.uk/
So far as it is relevant to your request, all property addresses and property types (descriptions) are available from the Valuation Office Agency. Accordingly, the Council is satisfied that this part of the information that you are seeking is already in the public domain and that the exemption at Section 21 of the Freedom of Information Act therefore applies to this part of your request.
Section 41 – Information provided in confidence
Section 41 of the Freedom of Information Act states:
(1). Information is exempt information if-
(a) it was obtained by the public authority from any other person (including another public authority), and
(b) the disclosure of the information to the public (otherwise than under this Act) by the public authority holding it would constitute a breach of confidence actionable by that or any other person.
The Council has taken into account the following documents and decisions relevant to this exemption:
1. Information Commissioners Freedom of Information Act – Awareness Guidance 2 – “Information provided in confidence”
2. Information Commissioners “Freedom of Information Act – the duty of confidence and the public interest”
The above documents can be found on the Information Commissioner’s website at www.ico.gov.uk .
The Council has applied section 41(1) to the part of your request that asks for the full business names, liable party and the dates of liability. This information was obtained by the Council from both individuals and companies and the Council considers that disclosure of any information not already in the public domain would constitute an actionable breach of confidence.
The Council also considers that the information has the necessary quality of confidence. It is recognised in English law that an important duty of confidentiality is owed to taxpayers and this is known as “taxpayer’s confidentiality”. It is a long-established principle of common law, protecting taxpayers’ affairs against disclosure to the public, and has been recognised to be of the utmost importance when dealing with the administration of taxes and rates.
The Council is satisfied that the requested information at issue here is not trivial, nor is it available by any other means.
The duty of confidence is not absolute, and the courts recognise that confidential information may be disclosed where there is an overriding public interest in disclosure, or if the person to whom the duty of confidence is owed consents to the disclosure.
In the context of this request that consent has not been provided. As to whether there is an overriding public interest, the Information Commissioner states in his guidance listed at 1 above that:
“the courts have taken the view that the grounds for breaching confidentiality must be valid and very strong. A duty of confidentiality should not be overridden lightly”
The Information Commissioner has produced further guidance upon the duty of confidence and the public interest test, listed at 2 above. The Council has had particular regard to the content of this guidance in dealing with your request.
It is stated at page 2 of the guidance that “the public interest test within the duty of confidence assumes that information should be withheld unless the public interest in disclosure outweighs the public interest in maintaining the duty of confidence”
Ratepayers provide information (including names and addresses) to the Council in confidence and receive rates calculations in confidence. They have a legal expectation that these confidences will be maintained. Disclosure of rate or tax related information into the public domain may discourage the provision of full information to the Council in future as it would remove that expectation that such confidences would be respected.
Furthermore there is a public interest in maintaining trust and preserving a free flow of information to the Council where this is necessary for the Council to perform its statutory functions relating to the administration of Business Rates and Council Tax. Such functions are undertaken for the benefit of the public.
Given this, then although there may be a public interest in scrutinising how the Council administers its business rates, the Council is unable to identify any more specific or weighty public interests arising out of the particular request made.
The request for disclosure is therefore refused under section 41(1) of the FOIA.
Section 40(2) - Personal data
Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act states that personal data is exempt if its disclosure would breach any of the data protection principles contained within the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.
The names of any individuals (as opposed to companies) and their private addresses for correspondence, are exempt from disclosure under this exemption. The withheld information on the basis of section 40(2) in this instance constitutes personal data as it identifies, or could be easily used to identify, living individuals.
This is because disclosure of such information would be unfair and thus breach the first data protection principle in Article 5(1)(a) of the General Data Protection Regulations. In deciding whether disclosure of personal data would be fair, and thus breach the first data protection principle, relevant factors include:
• The reasonable expectations of the individual in terms of what would happen to their personal data.
• The consequences of disclosing the information, i.e. what damage or distress would the individual suffer if the information was disclosed?
The Council considers that the data subjects will hold reasonable expectations that their data would only be used for the purposes of administering their Business Rates accounts. The individuals in question would suffer consequences to their privacy upon disclosing this information because, where individuals are sole traders, information about their business may reveal information about their financial well-being. There is no compelling public interest in disclosure of the withheld information. Persons supplying the Council with personal data for the purpose of administering business rates have a legitimate expectation to privacy, and protection from harm or distress. It would be unwarranted and contrary to those persons’ expectations and legitimate interests for the Council to disclose their personal data. When supplying their personal data those persons are aware that it will be used to administer their Business Rates (and any applicable reliefs, etc.), but they would not expect that their personal data would be released into the public domain.
The Council accepts that some of the withheld information may not be sole traders. Rather they may be directors of particular companies. There is no easy method to accurately determine which parts of the information relates to sole traders and which parts relate to directors of companies. Given the weighty requirements of personal data rights under the General Data Protection Regulations, where personal data is concerned the Council considers it appropriate to err on the side of caution.
Disclosure of the withheld information would be unfair. The information is therefore exempt on the basis of section 40(2) of Freedom of Information Act.
In addition to the above, any disclosure would also be for a purpose other than that for which the personal data was originally collected, contrary to Article 5(1)(b), and incompatible with the ratepayer confidentiality terms under which it was provided. It was not specified to the persons in question that their data might be disclosed into the public domain. Disclosure would also breach the second principle, again as it would be incompatible with the purpose for which the personal data was obtained. For these reasons also, the information is exempt on the basis of Section 40(2).
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