We receive a number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests of a similar nature for information which relates to business rate accounts (non-domestic properties). To address these requests the council will publish a spreadsheet containing data for the most commonly requested information on:
The spreadsheet will be published twice a year, in April and September. We will not provide individual responses to requests during the year for similar information, but will re-direct requests to our published set of reports held on this web page. Any requests for similar information will be politely declined.
(Please note: the information is write-protected. To filter and analyse the data you will need to copy and paste into a new spread sheet).
This is a snapshot of data as at the time of production and can be filtered to produce analyses for non-domestic ratepayers (excluding sole traders, partnerships and individuals) who:
- Are in receipt of mandatory and/or discretionary relief (filter on columns W-X)
- Are in receipt of Small Business Rates Relief (filter on column Z)
- Are empty and exempt (filter on columns S-V) (NB: The start date of the current exemption is not necessarily the date the property became unoccupied. An alternative exemption may have been awarded prior to the start date of the current exemption).
- Are new accounts (filter on column F)
This is a snapshot of data as at the time of production and lists the rateable value of all non-domestic properties within Hertsmere. The property reference number is provided (this is not the account number) together with the property address and the current rateable value, which is the basis for charge and description code.
Following the Information Commissioner Decision Notice for Wandsworth Borough Council in February 2017 [FS50619844] Hertsmere is withholding information relating to business rates credits since it considers that the following exemptions apply to it:
This information is exempt from disclosure under Section 31(1)(a) - Law enforcement. Disclosure of this information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime.
Section 31(1)(a) is a qualified exemption, and therefore is subject to the Public Interest Test. Section 31(1)(a) provides an exemption where prejudice could be caused to allow potential fraudsters to use the information to identify business entities which were entitled to claim credits on their accounts. Once such a business had been identified, there would be a number of avenues open to the fraudsters to seek to obtain funds.
To use this exemption the council was required to undertake a public interest test. The matters which were considered in applying the public interest test are as follows:
Factors in favour of disclosure
- Withholding the information could be perceived as the council attempting to retain monies that belong to the public.
- It is in the public interest to be open and transparent about our use of public funds.
- It is in the public interest to provide some transparency regarding the records the council holds in respect of the administration of business rates.
- This could be of interest to the minority of people who are due a refund, but have somehow failed to receive the notifications that money is due to them.
Factors in favour of withholding
- There is a public interest in ensuring that monies from the public purse, such as rebates on business accounts, are not fraudulently claimed and the process is not easier for fraud to be committed.
- The council's current verification procedure for refund claims is simple and cost effective. Disclosure of the requested information would result in additional verification processes needing to be implemented, at additional cost to the public which appeared disproportionate to the benefits that would accrue from disclosure.
- The additional verification process would place a new administrative burden as the level of scrutiny of the documents would be higher than usual.
- The additional verification process would be likely to slow the rate at which credit balance claims could be considered and refunded, causing a delay to all refunds and the likelihood of complaints, which would further burden our limited resources.
The cost consequences of a successful fraudulent claim would mean that the council would:
- Have incurred the cost of paying out to the fraudster
- Remain liable to the legitimate rate payer for an equivalent amount, raising the prospect of paying out twice
- Be faced with the cost (legal and incurrence of internal management time) of seeking to recover the funds wrongly paid to the fraudster.
Therefore, it is considered in the greater public interest not to disclose details of business rates credits at this time. This decision acts as a refusal notice under section 17 of the FOI Act.