FOI request (FOI203451)
Requested Fri 16 December 2016
Responded Wed 21 December 2016
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. I am performing a research piece for a nationwide charity on the abundance of vacant property in the UK. I am keen to demonstrate the unfortunate waste of space under current practices with concrete evidence. Would you please provide me with the following information for commercial premises which are currently vacant and where the rateable value of the property exceeds £5,000; - The full address including postcode - The name of the account holder where it is not an individual (if it is, please leave blank) - The rateable value of the property - The date on which the premises first became vacant - The type of property (if such information is easily included) I would be grateful if the information could be provided in Excel format if possible.
Notice of Refusal
Please note that I consider the information you have requested regarding a list of vacant properties to be exempt information under S31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act in that disclosure of that information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime.
The exemption afforded by S31(1)(a) is subject to what is known as the 'public interest test'. When applying the test in a particular case a public authority is deciding whether the public interest is better served by non-disclosure than by disclosure.
Although the Freedom of Information Act does not define 'in the public interest', there is a presumption under Freedom of Information that openness is in the public interest. In applying the public interest test a public authority will take into account the distinction that has been often made by courts between things that are in the public interest, and things that merely interest the public. Where applicants have not identified public interest considerations succinctly or accurately, the public authority has a responsibility under the Act to make their own assessment of the public interest considerations in the particular case.
We have identified the following public interest factors that may be seen as encouraging the disclosure of information:
a) furtherance of understanding and participation in the public debate of issues of the day
b) promotion of accountability and transparency by public authorities in the decision they make and the spending of public money
c) allowing individuals and companies to better understand decisions made by public authorities which affect their lives
We consider these factors to be generally of limited or no relevance in relation to the information in question.
Public interest factors seen as encouraging non-disclosure are, generally, the exemptions themselves. In consideration of this matter we came to the following conclusions:
a) that there is no evidence of a wider public (rather than individual) interest in disclosure
b) that the disclosure of the information would be likely to prejudice the prevention or detection of crime
c) that the nature of such prejudice is real and substantial and that there is a real and significant risk of such prejudice
f) that crime associated with vacant properties has a substantial detrimental effect upon other individuals in the neighbourhood and wider community
g) that the motives behind the request (albeit not provided to us) have no relevance since disclosure would mean the information would be in the public domain
In weighing the factors for and against disclosure we have concluded that the likely benefit to the applicant and the wider public of disclosure is outweighed by the likely prejudice caused by such disclosure and that therefore the public interest is better served by non-disclosure.
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