Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Freedom of Information on Empty Homes - A Decision

A decision by the information tribunal released today means that local authorities must now disclose information on certain empty homes. The decision in the case of Colin England, Bexley Council, and the Information Commissioner orders Bexley council to disclose addresses and ownership details of all long term empty homes that are not owned by individuals. An individual is defined as a natural person or beneficiary of a deceased person. They are not required to disclose details (addresses or ownership details) of properties owned by individuals.

My understanding is that this means that addresses and ownership information on properties empty for more than 6 months owned by local authorities, public bodies, housing associations, organisations and private companies should now be disclosed to those who request it.
A bit of a fudge, but an improvement on the previous position where most local authorities refused to disclose information on any empty homes. Pity the poor souls in council tax departments who have to sift out the individuals from the non-individuals.

10 comments:

  1. It will not be the "poor souls in council tax departments" who will deserve “pity” in every Local Authority. Where there is an Officer responsible for Empty Homes, he or she will be doing the sifting and will deserve your sympathy instead!

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  2. Likewise...there won't be "poor souls" doing the work. Bexley collected this information so it was "held" within the meaning of the FOIA. Lots of Councils do not collect or otherwise "hold" this type of data in the manner in which it is often requested. I suspect that the next round of legal arguments will be the extent to which the s.16 duty to advise and assist comes into play when councils are asked to create "new" data sets that were not previoulsy "held". Things may be clearer at Bexley but that's all.

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  3. The outcome of this ruling could mean that LA's are under pressure to release the addresses of empty social housing -not just long term voids but transitional voids where often properties are under offer or works are in progress. The result could be a rise in illegal occupation, especially in those borough's with acute housing pressures & increased costs to secure and protect property by social landlords. My borough has taken a decision to resist and oppose any requests for the release of such lists.

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  4. This is a charter for squatters and charletons trying to make money out property. When it all goes wrong who will get the blame? not them. It will be local authorities fault. We should refuse to release lists to anyone unless we know who they are.

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  5. Sherlock Nottingham13 June 2007 at 12:59

    What is your major malfunction?!
    I just don't get it! What is wrong with letting would be occupiers of empty properties have a list of empties so that they can do their own research and make the owner an offer? They are working towards the same end as us! If a place was going to be squatted it already would be! And in any case if it's squatted it's no longer empty! I give my list to anyone who asks. I've been refused a lists by several West Country councils (I aspire to retiring there some day) and it makes me SO ANGRY!!

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  6. In my humble opinion local authorities have failed to take the appropriate action on empty properties for very many years. Local authorities are responsible to their electorate and should give out information which allows the electorate to judge the effectiveness and efficiency of the authority.

    In this case the local authority said that it would be wrong to use information, which had been given to them in confidence for Council Tax purposes, for a secondary purpose ie to give it out to people like me. This ignores the fact that the Council itself uses the information from the Council Tax records for many other purposes.

    I have asked Bexley Council for information about their investigations into empty properties and at the moment it seems likely that this will aslo go to the Information Tribunal.

    C P England

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  7. I would be pleased to hear from anyone with information about local authorities which give out full lists of information about empty properties.

    I would also be pleased to hear from anyone who has such lists or would be willing to approach their local authority.

    I invite your man from sherwood to contact me.

    C P England
    cengland464@aol.com

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  8. The sooner the Information Commission produces a definitive answer on this, the better. However, as another blogger rightly pointed out, if the decision separates "private" ownership out, I doubt whether any councils will hold the information in this format and therefore will not have to give it under my understanding of FOI.

    However, I also question the point of giving out lists of empties - unless you live in an area of low demand, the owners of empties simply do not want to sell, no matter who approaches them. If they wanted to sell, in most places the market is so good that any house put up for sale at a reasonable price will sell fairly quickly. It is a myth that poor, innocent empty home owners are just waiting for someone to make an offer - hence the necessity of EDMOs and CPOs etc. Most of them choose to leave their homes empty.

    On another note, I wonder if this concern about squatters is justified at all. I work for a large LA and have yet to come across ANY real "squatters", as have my colleagues. I wonder if this is a problem outside London?

    Furthermore, I would welcome it if squatters did take up residence in a property - squatting is not illegal and the problems it would cause to an owner may just encourage them to bring the house back into use to ensure squatters do not take up residence again...

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