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Business rates - freedom of information

Last Modified September 03, 2018
 

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:

  • Empty properties
  • Mandatory and discretionary relief
  • Full list of non-domestic properties within Hertsmere with the rateable value
  • Businesses that have been awarded relief or are exempt from void rates
  • New accounts

 

The spreadsheet will be published twice a year during 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.

Limitations on data

Ratepayers' names and correspondence addresses are only provided where the ratepayer can be identified from our records as being a company, organisation or government body and not for individuals (sole traders, partnerships etc.). Data Protection prevents the publication of individual names.

The payer address is the last contact address held on the business rate records.

The ratepayer is the person liable to pay the charge. In many cases this is a leaseholder and not an owner. It is not possible to identify the owners from our records.

Account references are not included as these are personal to the account and are used to ensure that a rate payer is actually the account holder when they contact the council.

Due to software changes, any historic information can only go back as far as 1 April 2000.

The council cannot vouch for the ongoing accuracy of the data as accounts are being updated daily.

Information supplied within a Freedom of Information request is the copyright of Hertsmere Borough Council. All information that has been supplied is for personal use only.

Information relating to the spreadsheet data

Data extract tab

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)

Full list of non-domestic properties and their rateable value tab

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.

Download the Business Rates Freedom of Information Data Spreadsheet (663kb)

(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).

Accounts in credit

Following the Information Commissioner Decision Notice for Wandsworth 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 also 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 also a public interest in not making it 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 procedures would also be likely to slow the verification process, resulting in detriment to the genuine ratepayer which would be contrary to the public interest.

In relation to any new verification processes that might be needed, these would be likely to require the production of additional documents by those claiming a rebate which would place a new administrative burden on the majority of those legitimate claimants that did not currently exist. This would be compounded by the fact that the level of scrutiny of those documents would be higher than at present, given the increased suspicion that some of the claims (and associated documents) might well be fraudulent. The result would be that a new verification process would be likely to slow the rate at which credit balance claims could be considered and refunded, causing delay in all refunds and the likelihood of complaints, which would further burden our limited resources.

Disclosure of the requested information would result in the need to implement disproportionate steps and additional expense to the public purse to counter an increased risk of fraud that does not exist at present.

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; and

• Be faced with the cost (legal and incurrence of internal management time) of seeking to recover the funds wrongly paid to the fraudster.

It would not be in the public interest to expose it to such potential costs and expenses, given that they would be funded from the public purse.

It is considered that the greater public interest, therefore, lies in not providing the information at this time. In coming to that conclusion, the public interest in providing the information has been carefully weighed against any prejudice to the public interest that might arise from withholding the information; in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

The above decision not to disclose details of business rates credits acts as a refusal notice under section 17 of the FoIA.

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