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Copies of correspondence relating to the local taxes for second homes and self-catering accommodation consultation.

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First published:
27 April 2022
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11 May 2022

 

Dear

ATISN 16133 – Consultation on local taxes for second homes and self-catering accommodation

Information requested

You requested:

  1. A response from each of the category of respondees set out in the summary of responses.
  2. Gwynedd Council's response to the consultation.
  3. A response from a Council that does not support raising the maximum level of premiums to 300%. 
  4. Which councils supported passing legislation to raise premiums above the current 100% and which were against.
  5. Copies of advice provided to Ministers and a record of their responses on changes to the council tax premium in connection with the consultation from 6 May 2021.

Our response

Points 1-4

I wrote to you on 27 April disclosing the information for Points 1-4.

Point 5

I have decided that the information described in Point 5 is exempt from disclosure under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, specifically:

Section 36(2)(b)(i) – inhibiting the free and frank provision of advice;

Section 36(2)(b)(ii) – inhibiting the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation;

Section 36(2)(c) – otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

The reasons for applying the exemptions are set out at Annex 1 to this letter.

Next steps

If you are dissatisfied with the Welsh Government’s handling of your request, you can ask for an internal review within 40 working days of the date of this response.  Requests for an internal review should be addressed to the Welsh Government’s Freedom of Information Officer at:

Information Rights Unit 
Welsh Government
Cathays Park
Cardiff
CF10 3NQ. 

or Email: Freedom.ofinformation@gov.wales

Please remember to quote the ATISN reference number above.   

You also have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner.  The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: 

Information Commissioner’s Office 
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire 
SK9 5AF.

However, please note that the Commissioner will not normally investigate a complaint until it has been through our own internal review process.

Yours sincerely

 

Annex 1

I have decided to withhold the following information. 

Information being withheld

Section number and exemption name

 

Copies of advice provided to Ministers and a record of their responses on changes to the council tax premium in connection with the consultation from 6 May 2021.

 

 

Section 36(2)(b)(i) – inhibiting the free and frank provision of advice

Section 36(2)(b)(ii) – inhibiting the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation

Section 36(2)(c) – otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs

This Annex sets out the reasons for the engagement of Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act and our subsequent consideration of the Public Interest Test. 

Section 36 is a public interest tested exemption. This means that in order to withhold information under it, the public interest in withholding must outweigh that in releasing.

Public Interest arguments in favour of disclosing

The Welsh Government acknowledges the general public interest in openness and transparency that release of information engenders.

Public Interest arguments in favour of withholding

Section 36 (2)(b)(i) would, or would be likely to, inhibit the free and frank provision of advice

The timely provision of information and advice to Ministers on topics and issues on a range of matters is a key role of officials. There is concern that public disclosure of the information would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of views to Ministers and open discussions between Ministers during the early stages of thinking or at a future point in time where a policy has been developed and a decision is sought. It is normal practice for officials to provide advice and exchange views in an open and frank way, and to explore various options. It is believed that disclosure of information would mean that future discussions would be likely to be inhibited in that officials would be less candid, would be likely to lead to less rigorous and in-depth exploration of options and this in turn would harm the Welsh Government’s deliberations resulting in less robust and effective outcomes.

When formulating policy it is important that officials and Ministers are able to express themselves openly so there can be a full consideration of advice and views before any decisions are reached. If discussions are inhibited when formulating and implementing policy, there is a real risk that the advice provided to Ministers will be less comprehensive since it will not reflect the full range of views expressed by officials and Ministers. As part of the decision‑making process Ministers will expect comprehensive briefing which reflects the views of all those involved.

Section 36(2)(b)(ii) – would or would likely to inhibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation

During the deliberative process it is important that those involved can express themselves openly so that there can be a full consideration of different points of view before any final decision is reached.

Some exchanges may contain significantly different points of view regarding the work under consideration. The disclosure of this information would be likely to inhibit the open expression of views when considering whether to take forward options and recommendation when formulating and implementing policy in relation to council tax premiums. For example, if officials can no longer be assured their opinions will remain private, they may seek to be more circumspect in what they express for fear of being misinterpreted. This would be likely to lead to a narrower range of discussions taking place between participants as they seek to be more guarded in what they express.

Formulating and implementing council tax policy requires Ministerial agreement. If discussions are inhibited at the formative stage, there is a real risk that the advice provided to Ministers will be less comprehensive since it will not reflect the full range of views expressed by officials. As part of the decision-making process, the Minister will expect comprehensive briefing which reflects the views of all those involved in consideration of formulating and implementing policy. This will not be possible if, at any stage of the development or implementation of policy, officials have been restricted in what they are able to say.

Section 36(2)(c) – would otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs

Advising Ministers is a fundamental role of the civil service. This can be in the context of Ministers being required to make a decision or for information purposes.

In providing briefing and information to Ministers, officials provide formal and informal advice in relation to a new decision relating to policy, operations, legislation or any other matter. 

In order for the formal or informal advisory process to function properly, officials must be able to conduct themselves in a frank and open way where ideas and views can be expressed within a ‘safe space’ environment.

The information withheld provided advice, options and recommendations to Ministers as well as the exchange of opinions between Ministers in the formulation and implementation of council tax premium policy. If this information were to be released it would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs in that it could lead to confusion and ill‑informed debate, public scrutiny, speculation or interpretation on the possible direction of matters.

Release would also negatively impact the ‘safe space’ environment which a government requires in order to develop ideas or make decisions, consider live issues and reach decisions away from external interference and distraction. Further, erosion of this ‘safe space’ may lead to a loss of frankness and candour on behalf of officials if they believed their early policy considerations or opinions would be exposed to public scrutiny at an early stage which in turn could damage the quality of advice and lead to poorer decision making.

Balance of Public Interest test

I consider that the public interest arguments to withhold the requested information outweigh the public interest arguments to release the information. I believe that the information should be withheld on the basis that its release would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

The decision on council tax premiums and the rationale for the decision has been made public. The summary of responses to the consultation was published on 1 March and the policy intention was made clear through an announcement on 2 March. The regulations to effect the decision to increase the maximum level at which local authorities may choose to set council tax premiums were scrutinised and approved through the affirmative procedure in the Senedd on 22 March. The regulations were accompanied by the relevant explanatory material. The regulations amend the discretionary powers available to local authorities to apply a council tax premium. It will be for individual authorities to determine whether to apply a premium and at what level, taking account of the potential impact in their areas.

Policy development in relation to connected areas of local taxation is ongoing, as is policy development in relation to other areas of the Welsh Government’s three-pronged approach to dealing with the issues arising from the impact of large numbers of second home and holiday lets on certain communities and the availability of affordable housing.

 

 

27 April 2022

 

Dear

 

ATISN 16133 – Consultation on local taxes for second homes and self-catering accommodation

Information requested

Thank you for clarifying your request which I received on 7 April. I have taken this to mean you asked for:

  1. A response from each of the category of respondees set out in the summary of responses.
  2. Gwynedd Council's response to the consultation.
  3. A response from a Council that does not support raising the maximum level of premiums to 300%. 
  4. Which councils supported passing legislation to raise premiums above the current 100% and which were against.
  5. Copies of advice provided to Ministers and a record of their responses on changes to the council tax premium in connection with the consultation from 6 May 2021.

Our response

I confirm we hold some of the information relating to your request.

Point 1

You asked for a response from each of the category of respondees set out in the summary of responses. An anonymised response for each category is at Annex 1. We are in the process of collating all the consultation responses into a format suitable for distribution and this will be available in due course.

Point 2

You asked for Gwynedd Council's response to the consultation. Gwynedd Council’s consultation response is included in the consultation responses provided in Annex 1 to this letter. Their response is provided for the Local Authority category.

Point 3

You asked for a response from a Council that does not support raising the maximum level of premiums to 300%.  We do not hold this information in the format you have requested. The consultation did not specifically ask for views on whether respondents did or did not support raising the maximum level of premiums to 300%.

Point 4

You asked which councils supported passing legislation to raise premiums above the current 100% and which were against. We do not hold this information in the format you have requested. The consultation did not specifically ask for views regarding passing legislation to raise the premium above the current 100%.

Legislation to increase the maximum level at which local authorities can set council tax premiums on long-term empty dwellings and dwellings occupied periodically in their areas to 300% was made by the Welsh Ministers on 22 March 2022. Further information about The Council Tax (Long-term Empty Dwellings and Dwellings Occupied Periodically) (Wales) Regulations 2022 is available at the link below:

SL(6)167 - The Council Tax (Long-term Empty Dwellings and Dwellings Occupied Periodically) (Wales) Regulations 2022 (senedd.wales)

Point 5

You asked for copies of advice provided to Ministers and a record of their responses on changes to the council tax premium in connection with the consultation from 6 May 2021.

Whilst I can confirm the Welsh Government holds information of this description, we are considering if it is exempt from disclosure under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, specifically:

Section 36(2)(b)(i) - inhibiting the free and frank provision of advice;

Section 36(2)(b)(ii) - inhibiting the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation

Section 36(2)(c) – otherwise prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

The Freedom of information Act provides a right for anyone to ask a public authority to make requested information available to the wider public. As the release of requested information is to the world, not just the requester, public authorities need to consider the effects of making the information freely available to everybody. Any personal interest the requester has for accessing the information cannot override those wider considerations.

I will write to you again when a determination has been reached.

Next steps

If you are dissatisfied with the Welsh Government’s handling of your request, you can ask for an internal review within 40 working days of the date of this response.  Requests for an internal review should be addressed to the Welsh Government’s Freedom of Information Officer at:

Information Rights Unit 
Welsh Government
Cathays Park
Cardiff
CF10 3NQ. 

or Email: Freedom.ofinformation@gov.wales

Please remember to quote the ATISN reference number above.   

You also have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner.  The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:  Information Commissioner’s Office,

Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire 
SK9 5AF.

However, please note that the Commissioner will not normally investigate a complaint until it has been through our own internal review process.

Yours sincerely