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Read our latest statement regarding today's incident in Birstall. 

Empty Properties

Requested on
Wed 3rd September, 2014
Reference
FOI 4928
Resolution
Information provided

Question

Please could you provide details of the number of empty residential properties both private and publicly owned within your boundaries?

Also the number of commercial properties be they offices, retails, or warehouses etc?

Answer

Thank you for your request which the council has considered.
We are unable to provide details of empty residential properties in Charnwood as the information is exempt from disclosure under sections 40(3)(a) and 31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000
The Information Tribunal (case ref EA/2006/0060 & 0066) found that the address of a property and the address or other details of the owner, where the owner was a private individual, were personal data as defined by the Data Protection Act 1998, and therefore fell within the exemption in Section 40 (3) (a) (i) (Personal Information) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. 

The exemption under Section 40 (3) (a) (i)  is engaged if the processing of personal data in response to a request would breach one or more of the data protection principles.  In this case the Tribunal considered that the individuals concerned had supplied information about their empty properties to the council purely for the council’s use, for Council Tax purposes, and with no expectation that the information would be published to the wider public domain.  The Tribunal also considered that to obtain information for one statutory process and then re-use it for another purpose without informing the owner of the data would be a breach of Data Protection law.  This is an absolute exemption.

Additionally a First-tier tribunal (case ref EA/2011/0007) found that providing the addresses of empty properties could lead to vandalism, squatting and criminal actions in respect of these properties.
The exemption under Section 31 (1)(a) relates to Law enforcement and is engaged when disclosure of the information under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice the prevention or detection of crime.  As Section 31(1) is a qualified exemption, we are also required to decide, on a case by case basis, whether the public interest in maintaining this exemption outweighs the public interest in its disclosure.  The Information Commissioner has suggested that the factors that would weigh in favour of disclosure would include:

• Furthering the understanding and participation in the public debate of issues of the day.
• Promoting accountability and transparency by public authorities for decisions taken by them.
• Promoting accountability and transparency in the spending of public money.
• Allowing individuals, companies and other bodies to understand decisions made by public authorities affecting their lives.
• Bringing to light information affecting public health and safety.

Given the nature of the exemption in this case, it is our opinion that none of these factors weigh in favour of the public interest in disclosing the information over maintaining the exemption for the prevention of crime. For these reasons we are not able to supply the information requested.

The full decision notices for the tribunal cases given above can be found using the following links
http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i146/ENgland.pdf
http://www.informationtribunal.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i942/EA-2011-0007_2013-01-22.pdf

Regarding empty commercial properties, we publish our Business Rates information as a dataset on our website.  Please see the following link to access the information and to find details of how this data may be re-used. http://www.charnwood.gov.uk/pages/business_rates_dataset
The information published includes whether the premises are currently empty so will provide the information you are seeking.

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