A city council has refused to name business owners who do not pay their rates.
The man in charge of collecting unpaid rates said that naming the firms could damage their reputation.
National Non-Domestic Rates – to give business rates their bureaucratic name – are a tax.
The council must take recovery action against any business that does not pay.
If the business fails to pay up after receiving a liability order, the council can apply for insolvency action and the final stage will be a committal hearing at court which can result in the business chief going to jail.
Brighton and Hove City Council refused my request under the Freedom of Information Act for the names of all limited companies in the city who have had in the past six months, or are about to have, liability orders made against them for non payment.
According to the Government’s Information Commissioner, there is a public interest in disclosing some commercially sensitive information about private companies that is held by public authorities.
The Information Commission Office guidelines state: “In the course of its role as a regulator, a public authority may hold information on the quality of products or on the conduct of private companies. There would be strong public interest arguments in allowing access to information which would help protect the public from unsafe products or dubious practices, even though this might involve revealing information that is likely to harm the commercial interests of a company.”
Graham Bourne, head of revenues and benefits at Brighton & Hove City Council disagrees.
He said: “I can confirm that we hold this information. However, we consider the information to be exempt from disclosure under Section 43 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act and we will not be providing it to you. This exemption relates to information where disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the commercial interests of any person.
“We have considered the public interest test; it is our opinion that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure. We consider that disclosing the names of property owners against whom liability orders have been obtained is likely to prejudice their commercial interests; it could damage their reputation and the confidence that their customers, suppliers or financiers has in them, and it could have an impact on revenues or threaten their ability to obtain supplies or secure credit.”
So know you know. Or rather, you don’t.