NNDR Business Rates FOIs

We regularly receive Freedom of Information requests throughout the year regarding business rates. As most of these requests are for similar information, we will usually publish the data sets quarterly on our website.

By continuing to publish, the data at this time risks its use by fraudsters to identify the business entities entitled to claim grants on their accounts and pursue obtaining those funds illegally. Evidence of scams and fraud relating to the COVID19 business rate grants are currently being reported and investigated nationally.

Due to the risk, we have removed all datasets relating to business rates. At a time of national crisis, combating fraud from the public purse has to take priority.

Under exemption 31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, we are also refusing to respond to specific requests on COVID19 Business Rate Grants.

Exemption 31(1)(a) is used when it is deemed that the need to prevent crime is greater than the public interest in accountability.

Continuing to publish the full business rates list at this time, increases the risk of the information being used by fraudsters and attempting to obtain public funds by deception.

By applying this exemption to the business rates data, we can ensure that we continue to protect public funds and only pay grants to those who are genuinely entitled to help.

Further Business Support information is available on our website at: www.tamworth.gov.uk/coronavirus-support-available

When the risk of fraud is substantially reduced, and the below schemes have closed, the Council will seek to review its NNDR Business Rate data to the view of publication.

Below is a link to the nationally published data for the coronavirus grant schemes.

www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-grant-funding-local-authority-payments-to-small-and-medium-businesses

Accounts with Credits/Write on

We have issued Ratepayers with a credit on their account a Credit bill notice.

Following a number of relevant decision notices issued by the Information Commissioners Office surrounding the publication of business rates credit balances, the Council will no longer be publishing Business Rates Credits.

Details of actions taken from ICO can be found at Action we've taken | ICO

The information is being withheld under Section 31(1)(a) Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FoIA), which states that:

“Information which is not exempt under Section 30 is exempt information if its disclosure under this Act would, or would be likely to, prejudice (a) the prevention or detection of crime “

Section 31(1)(a) is subject to a public interest, and the following matters were considered:

For disclosure

  • 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.
  • It is in the public interest to be open and transparent about our use of public funds.
  • Withholding the information could be perceived as the council attempting to retain monies that belong to the public.

For non-disclosure

  • 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 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.

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

Therefore, it is considered the public interest lies in not to disclose details of business rate credits at this time.

This response therefore acts as a refusal notice under section 17 of the Freedom of Information Act. (FOIA)