Norwich City Council does not provide names of businesses or addresses of empty commercial and residential properties as it considers disclosing this information would make them a target of crime. Therefore this information is exempt from disclosure under section 31 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Pursuant to section 31(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, public authorities are not obliged to release information that would be likely to prejudice the functions of law enforcement- namely the prevention and detection of crime.
The release of this type of information where empty commercial and residential properties are situated, would increase the potential for:
- Buildings to be targeted by squatters
- Buildings to be targeted by criminals or terrorists intent on hiding or depositing proceeds of crime of terrorist materials
- Premises to be identified as short-term hiding places by criminals or terrorists
- Premises to be targeted by vandals or street artists
We have also taken into account Information Tribunal Case No. EA/2011/0007, in which the Tribunal was satisfied that the evidence suggests that disclosing this information would have the effect of assisting at least some of those wishing to engage in squatting, leading to an increase in the instances of such activity.
Squatting in residential property has itself become a criminal offence which demonstrates the destructive nature of squatting and the associated crimes. Information on empty commercial properties could also lead to crime associated with squatting such as vandalism and the theft of fixtures and fittings. The Tribunal concluded that an increase in squatting would also lead to various categories of associated criminal activity. As a result the Tribunal found that section 31(1) (a) was engaged in that it was likely that disclosure of the disputed information would have a negative impact on the prevention of crime.
Section 31 is a qualified exemption and we are obliged to consider the public interest test.