Rent Officer Handbook: general matters related to all Rent Officer work

Other: data information

Other Rent Officer related matters - data and information.

Update log

A list of changes made to Rent Officer Handbook pages.

Date of Change Page Name Description of changes
12 January 2017  Equality Act – making our service as accessible as possible New page
6 January 2017 Lettings Information Collection – Students Updated
16 December 2016 Lettings Information – Moorings Updated
16 December 2016 Information Retention Updated
16 December 2016 Redeterminations Updated
16 December 2016 Redeterminations – Inspections Updated
16 December 2016 Redeterminations – Consulting Officer Updated
16 December 2016 Redeterminations – Representations Updated
 31 October 2016      Housing Benefit – Exceptionally High Rent Page  Updated
4 October 2016 Fair Rent- Inspection Policy Removed
4 October 2016 Fair Rent- Guidance on Inspections New page
7 September 2016 Fair Rent - Non Contractual Services Updated page
7 September 2016 Fair Rent - Inspection Critera Updated page
10 August 2016 Lettings Information – Data Sources New page
10 August 2016 Lettings Information – Market Intelligence New page
10 August 2016 Lettings Information – Minimum Data Standards New page
10 August 2016 Lettings Information – Quality of LI New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information - VIS New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Subsidies and Premiums New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Ineligible Services New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Dates New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Number of Bedrooms New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Students New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Sites and Moorings New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Internet New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Housing Benefit Data New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Housing Association Data New page
29 July 2016 Lettings Information – Board New page
8th April 2016 Services – Variation Clause Page updated
1 March 2016 Water Rates or Water Charges Page updated
29 February 2016 LRRs Page updated
4 Feb 2016 Services – Changes to Services New page
14 January 2016 Shared Ownership Page updated
13 January 2016 Rent Register Searches Page updated
7 January 2016 Using Data for LRR / LHA  Page removed
16 September 2015  LHA General Information Updated page
16 September 2015 LHA Capped Rates Updated page
16 July 2015 Lettings Information - Monthly QA New page
14 July 2015 Lettings Information - Tenancy Start Date Updated page
14 July 2015 Lettings Information - Recording on Victer Updated page
6 July 2015 Exemptions from Maximum Fair Rent New page
26 June 2015 Information Retention Page updated
10-June-2015 Consultations procedures and practice Page updated
5-June-2015 LHA Exemptions Page updated
8-May-2015 Late Objections Page updated
8-May-2015 Lettings Research Role Page removed
3-Apr-2015 Tenancy start dates Updated page
2-Feb-2015 FR Withdrawals Updated page
26-Jan-2015 Local Housing Allowances – General Information Updated page
26-Jan-2015 Local Housing Allowances – Capped Rates Updated page
26-Jan-2015 Tenant representatives New page
26-Jan-2015 Board evidence – Category 1A Lettings Information Updated page
15/12/2014 Errors, Substitutes and amended determinations Amended page
12/12/2014 Break in Claim Deleted
5-Dec-2014 Student Lettings New page
5-Dec-2014 Rent Register Searches Updated page
25-Nov-2014 Notices of Increase Updated page
25-Nov-2014 LRR Determinations Updated page
14-Oct-2014 Consultations – Procedure and Practice Updated page
15-Aug-2014 Mooring Charges Updated page
05-Jun-2014 Grants Updated page
14-May-2014 Board evidence v1 2010 Page removed – updated version already published
02-May-2014 Objection Checklist Page updated and form moved to “Forms and Letters” section
02-May-2014 Measuring Standard Updated page
26-Mar-2014 Supported Accommodation Amended page
21-Mar-2014 Services- Management Charges New page
06-Mar-2014 Victer Repair Notation Updated page
28-Feb-2014 Size Criteria Updated page – new order
20-Feb-2014 Student Lettings Page removed
20-Feb2014 Maximum Fair Rent Updated page
07-Feb-2014 Valuing shared rooms New page
07-Feb-2014 Judicial Review Guidance New page
19-Dec-2013 LHA – General Information Updated page – new order
19-Dec-2013 LHA – Capped Rates Updated page – new order
19-Dec-2013 Size and Rent (HB) Updated page – new order
5-Nov-2013 Joint Applications (FR) Updated page
5-Nov-2013 LHA Capped Rates Updated page
5-Nov-2013 LHA General Info Updated page
5-Nov-2013 Objections (FR) Updated page
5-Nov-2013 Objections Checklist Updated page
11-Sep-13 FR late Objections Updated page
10-Sep-13 Time targets (Fair Rent) Page removed
10-Sep-13 Judicial Review Page removed
15-Jul-13 Amount to Register as Rent – Section 71 New page
15-Jul-13 Schedule 11 - Procedures New page
2-Jul-13 Services and Maximum Fair Rent New page
2-Jul-13 Council Tax and Fair Rent New page
1-Jul-13 Size Criteria Updated page
1-Jul-13 Size and Rent Updated page
12-Jun-13 Succession Updated page - expanded explanation with examples
21-May-13 Late Objections Updated page
28-Mar-13 Lettings Information from Housing Associations New page
28-Mar-13 Lettings Information Recording on VICTER Updated page
28-Mar-13 Joint Applications for Registration of Rent New page
25-Mar-13 Redaction of Lettings Information Updated page
06-Mar-13 Information Retention Updated policy
27-Feb-13 Jurisdictional Hearings New page
27-Feb-13 Housing Benefit Data – Lettings Information supported by Housing Benefit claims Updated page
27-Feb-13 Grant Aided Works Updated page
15-Jan-13 Caravan Definition Updated page
15-Jan13 FOI & DPA Protocols Updated page
15-Jan13 Data Protection Act Updated page
14-Dec-12 Maximum Fair Rent Updated page to include worked example
26-Nov-12 Moorings Updated page to take account of new data recording methods
23-Oct-12 Telephone Preference Service New page added
23-Oct-12 Shared Ownership Updated page
23-Oct-12 Rearranging Consultations Updated page
23-Oct-12 Quality Assurance Updated page
23-Oct-12 Ineligible Services New page related to recording lettings information
23-Oct-12 Consultations – Procedures and Practice New page added
23-Oct-12 Inspection Criteria – Fair Rent Amended criteria
23-Oct-12 Handbook Updated page
23-Oct-12 Guidance Updated page
23-Oct-12 Lettings Information - Introduction Updated page
19-Oct-12 LHA – general information Updated page
19-Oct-12 LHA – capped rates Updated page
19-Oct-12 LHA – four bed cap Updated page
19-Oct-12 LHA – exemptions Updated page
19-Oct-12 LHA – redeterminations Updated page
12-Oct-12 Errors, Substitutes and Amended Determinations Redrafted page for improved detail and completeness
09-Jul-12 Re-arranging consultations New page
30-Jun-12 Services – Depreciation Table Updated page
11-Jun-12 Site Rents (Caravan Sites) Amended re mains connections
11-Jun-12 Caravans exclusive of site rents Updated re above
11-Jun-12 Extrapolation Updated and re-formatted
11-Jun-12 Checklist – old and new cases (FR) New page
11-Jun-12 Mooring charges Further clarified following peer review
11-Jun-12 Supported Accommodation Amended re net v gross rents
11-Jun-12 Support services/charges Amended re above
28-May-12 Local Reference Rent Amended re BRMA(LRR)
11-May-12 BRMA Updated page (April changes)
11-May-12 BRMA (LRR) Updated page (April changes)
11-Apr-12 LHA Capped Rates Updated page (April changes)
11-Apr-12 LHA General Information Updated page (April changes)
11-Apr-12 LHA / LRR Differences Updated page (April changes)
11-Apr-12 Services – Pooling Services New page
13-Mar-12 Caravan Site fees Updated re size notional
13-Mar-12 Size Notional Updated re sites / moorings
08-Mar-12 HB Valuation Practice Updated VOA to RO
08-Mar-12 Crown Tenancies New page
07-Feb-12 Cancelling Registered Rents Updated page to reflect new procedure
07-Feb-12 Caravans exclusive of site rents Updated page
07-Feb-12 Category 1a Board New page
23-Jan-12 Referral – Accepting at Face Value New page
16-Jan-12 Determinations for Housing Benefit Updated to reflect above SRR changes
16-Jan-12 Shared Ownership Updated in relation to repairing obligations and valuation
12-Jan-12 Single Room Rent Updated to reflect January 2012 change to age limit (u25 to u35)
12-Jan-12 Mooring Charges Clarified guidance
12-Jan-12 Full Repairing Leases; valuation approach New page
11-Jan-12 Caravan Definition New page
06-Dec-11 Ineligible Services Wording clarification
06-Dec-11 Redeterminations Updated page
06-Dec-11 Redeterminations – Consulting Officer Updated page
06-Dec-11 Redeterminations – Inspection Criteria Updated page
06-Dec-11 Redeterminations - Representations Updated page
23-Nov-11 RR3 – Further Information Required New page
21-Nov-11 Correspondence and FOI/DPA protocols for rent officer teams New page
08-Nov-11 Contractual Rent Increases New page on the exception to the 52 week referral embargo
08-Nov-11 Change of Circumstances – Housing Benefit Updated to refer to the above New page
08-Nov-11 Fifty two week rule Updated to refer to the above New page
08-Nov-11 Succession Improved with more detail
07-Nov-11 Redaction of Lettings Information Clarified to reflect updated VOA policy
07-Nov-11 Houseboats exclusive of Mooring Charges New page giving guidance on valuation approach
04-Oct-11 Services – Definitions and Rent Register Notation Modified version of Services – Introduction page
04-Oct-11 Supported Accommodation Revised wording with examples
03-Oct-11 Consultations Updated and reference to pro-forma added
21-Sep-11 Lettings Information – LRR and LHA Differences Updated guidance to include 30th percentiles
16-Aug-11 Delayed referrals Clarification that service has been withdrawn
16-Aug-11 Fifty Two Week Rule Updated guidance
14-Jul-11 Services – Variation Clause RO discretion clarified
14-Jul-11 Services – Variable Services RO discretion clarified and register notation guidance simplified
04-Jul-11 Non resident carers under the size criteria New page
04-Jul-11 Size criteria Updated to reflect April changes
30-Jun-11 Inspection criteria – HB Update to refer to New page
30-Jun-11 Inspection criteria – FR Update to refer to New page
30-Jun-11 Inspections – Reasons on VICTER New page – guidance on use of VICTER drop-down reasons for inspections
30-Jun-11 Lettings Information – tenancy start dates New page
30-Jun-11 Relevant time – for HB referrals New page
30-Jun-11 Ground rents – FR applications New page
20-May-11 Agricultural tenancy Updated to show interim rents where no RV exists
20-May-11 Repair Liability – Register Annotation - VICTER New page
14-Apr-11 Lettings Information – subsidies and premiums New page
31-Mar-11 LHA – 30th Percentile New page
30-Mar-11 LHA 5+ Bedrooms Page deleted
30-Mar-11 LHA 4+ Bedrooms New page
30-Mar-11 LHA General Information Updated to reflect April changes
30-Mar-11 Size Criteria Updated to reflect April changes
28-Mar-11 Mooring Charges Updated LRR setting guidance
28-Mar-11 Caravan Site Fees Updated LRR setting guidance
25-Mar-11 FR Withdrawals New page
18-Mar-11 Lettings Information – Number of bedrooms New page
15-Mar-11 Rent Register Searches New page with guidance and reference to standard letters to customers asking for the rent register to be searched
15-Mar-11 Scarcity Clarification of rent officer requirements when determining substantial scarcity (over 10%)
15-Mar-11 Inspection Criteria – Fair Rent Updated minimum frequency
15-Mar-11 Inspections – Measuring Standard Updated page
15-Mar-11 Inspections Practice – Fair Rent Updated minimum frequency
08-Mar-11 Services – Variable Services Clarifying and updating guidance
08-Mar-11 Informal Advice Clarification of guidance on providing Equivalent Fair Rents for Almshouses
21-Feb-11 Exemptions from Referrals Clarification of existing guidance
12-Jan-11 Lettings Information Converting supporting to transactional New page
23-Dec-10 Inspections Criteria – HB Clarifying frequency of inspections for HMOs and board
23-Dec-10 Redaction of Lettings Information New page – treating LI for data protection purposes
23-Dec-10 Judicial Reviews Removal of LI redaction content
23-Dec-10 Caravans exclusive of site fees New page – valuation where caravan rented separately from site fee
23-Dec-10 Caravan Site Fees Amended to take account of above New page
16-Dec-10 Agricultural Tenancy Clarified wording
16-Nov-10 Consultations Improved guidance on re-arranged consultations
16-Nov-10 Lettings Information – board, etc Improved guidance on what may constitute a letting as a home
05-Oct-10 Time targets - FR Correcting minor error
28-Sep-10 Potentially Violent People Updated guidance on PVPs and file markers to enhance staff health and safety
02-Aug-10 Exemptions from Referrals Enhanced guidance replacing old ‘excluded tenancies’ page
26-Jul-10 Objections Updated page v1 2010
26-Jul-10 Objections - Late Updated page V1 2010
23-Jul-10 Controlled Tenancies and Phasing New page – identifying controlled tenancies and their effects
02-Jul-10 Caravan Site Rents Clarified LRR etc guidance
02-Jul-10 Mooring Charges Clarified LRR etc guidance
10-Jun-10 Broad Rental Market Areas Updated to reflect revised performance targets
10-Jun-10 Fraudulent Claims Updated to reflect developments in liaison with Local Authorities
17-May-10 Repair Liability Improved information added
17-May-10 Judicial Reviews Updated, and superseded content removed
05-May-10 Local Reference Rent Determinations Updated to include approach endorsed by Heffernan judgment
05-May-10 Lettings Information – Student Lettings etc New handbook page added
05-May-10 Lettings Information – Ineligible Services New handbook page added
05-May-10 Repair Liability New handbook page added
31-Mar-10 Lettings Information - Sources Removal of TRS references
25-Mar-10 Delayed referrals Updated approach, no longer providing backdated determinations, with immediate effect
25-Mar-10 Fifty two week rule Removal of reference to delayed referrals and clarification of size notionals under change of circumstances referrals
25-Mar-10 Shared ownership Clarifying the approach to management and insurance using VICTER
25-Mar-10 Long Tenancies New handbook page added
02-Mar-10 Size notional determinations Added instructions on how to record notional determinations on VICTER system
02-Mar-10 LHA – general information Corrected definition of one room shared category of LHA
02-Mar-10 Services – value to tenant Enhanced information regarding management and profit in relation to registration of rents including services
02-Mar-10 Water rates and water charges New handbook page added
27-Jan-10 Inspection Criteria pages (both FR and HB) Updated inspection criteria effective from 1st February 2010
22-Jan-10 Rent Officer Handbook (complete) Entire publication launched on the VOA Website
02-Oct-15 Potentially Violent People Updated page
31-Oct-16 Housing Benefit – Exceptionally High Rent Updated page
31-Oct-16 Housing Benefit – Redeterminations Updated page

Data Protection Act - access to file information

(v2.1 2012)

The operation of the Data Protection Act in relation to requests for Rent Officer file information.

Background

We have a policy of being open and accountable in our dealings with the public. We aim to make information freely available where we can.

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) regulates the processing of personal data. It gives various rights to individuals including the right to access information (subject to certain exemptions) held on file about them. This guidance only covers the DPA. Access to a third party’s personal data is exempt information under s30 of the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA). Requests for a data subject’s own data made under FoIA is also exempt under s40 but we are then required to treat the request as a ’subject access request’ made under DPA. The DPA also places obligations on those who control data. The first data protection principle requires that processing must be fair and lawful and that sensitive personal data can only be processed if the conditions contained in Schedule 3 of the DPA 1998 are met. The third data protection principle requires that personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed. This means that our organisation as a data controller has to exercise care when recording information.

General principles

You must exercise caution in recording data on file and seek guidance from the lead officer in Housing Allowances for Data Protection issues (Stephanie Mindel) before recording on file any personal data in respect of an individual consisting of information as to:

  • their racial or ethnic origin
  • their political opinions
  • their religious beliefs or other beliefs of a similar nature
  • membership of a Trade Union
  • their physical or mental health or condition
  • their sexual life
  • the commission or alleged commission of any offence
  • proceedings for any offence committed or alleged to have been committed by them, the disposal of such proceedings or the sentence of any court in such proceedings

You must also seek guidance from the Guidance helpdesk before recording on file, or placing any marker on a file, indicating that a person is potentially violent.

You must not accept or consider any information which is or which may be, libellous (i.e. information which is false and derogatory without lawful justification made in a permanent form). If a letter is received, for example in a rent registration case, containing such information, the sender should be notified that correspondence is copied to the other party to the application, inviting them to resubmit the representations without the defamatory statements. If they refuse or do not answer, we may consider redacting the correspondence before copying it to the other party. If you are not sure whether the information is or may be libellous then please seek guidance from “RO.guidance”. Sample letters to be used in Fair Rent cases are available from the operational forms section on the intranet site.

There is some information that we will not release to individuals. The information held on files which individuals must not be allowed access to are:

  • documents which have been produced by a court or have been placed in the custody of the court or tribunal relating to proceedings (contact the Data Protection Officer if you need advice on individual items)
  • documents which are created by or given to a person conducting an inquiry (eg internal emails relating to any proceedings or internal investigation)
  • documents relating to ministerial correspondence or communications
  • personal information relating to anyone other than the individual e.g. certain letters from a third party, details of previous tenants, specific market evidence which may identify individual properties. Please note landlords must not be allowed access to Housing Benefit files or information about specific claims. Determinations and redeterminations relate to specific housing benefit claims by tenants in the private sector and are confidential
  • commercially sensitive information eg specific information about lettings information or agents’ portfolios

If an identical or similar request by the same individual has already been complied with, then you do not need to comply with a request unless a reasonable interval has elapsed between compliance with the previous request and the making of the current request. You can contact the Data Protection Officer for guidance as to what constitutes a reasonable interval on individual cases.

Individuals rights of access

The Act gives an individual the right to request a copy of the personal data on him or her held by a data controller. The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) as an executive agency of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), comes under HMRC for the implementation of the DPA.

The legal term for a request for personal information is a ‘Subject Access Request’ (SAR). All such requests must be made in writing (this can include emails), but they do not have to mention DPA.

Procedures for accessing personal data

If someone asks to see the information we hold on their file you must ask them to put their request in writing. The request must include:

  • the name of the applicant
  • the address for correspondence with the applicant
  • accurate details of the address of the property to which the information relates.
  • details of what information they wish to view - this is because they only have the right to see things they have requested. Give examples of what they may request
  • the signature of the applicant.

If the applicant is unable to provide details of what information they wish to view you should help them with their request and explain the sort of thing they may want to see, eg the original HB referral form / RR1, the HB or Fair Rent worksheets or copies of the decision sent back to HB.

In the case of a telephone request ask the inquirer to put their request in writing. Explain how to do this and what the request should contain.

Any SAR request received must be forwarded to the Customer Services Manager, Emma Harrison at the NSO, who will log the request on the Customer Contact Record (CCR) and acknowledge as appropriate. The NSO will then respond (if they have the information) or pass to the relevant person to respond eg team managers, guidance or BIS. We need to keep a record of all SARs and clear record of what has been provided in case of further queries or requests and to enable us to produce accurate statistics for HMRC.

For each SAR we must have a clear record of, the date the SAR was received; a record (notes) of any searches to establish what is held, date response issued and what information has been provided.

It is important that any information provided relates only to that person or property and you should be fully satisfied that the request is made by the Data Subject or have written verifiable consent of the Subject eg a letter of authority enclosed with a solicitors letter. Any information on the file relating to another person or property should be fully removed/redacted. Likewise if lettings information is being provided the addresses must first be fully redacted in accordance with VOA policy. See RO Handbook – Redaction of Lettings Information.

Time limit

We have up to 40 days from the date the request is received by the Department together with enough details to allow us to locate the information and satisfy ourselves about the identity of the person making the request to reply. We do not charge for this service.

  • FOI and DPA protocols
  • Information requests under FOI
  • Redaction of lettings information

Correspondence and FOI/DPA protocols for rent officer teams

(v1 2012)

Procedures to follow when requests are received under the Data Protection Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

All correspondence should go via the NSO, this page provides further information on how to deal with correspondence if received locally or if you are writing a response.

General correspondence

Any general correspondence must be forwarded to the NSO. Letters are logged, scanned and attached to the relevant V4 case by NSO. A copy is sent to the relevant RO to respond if necessary and copied to the VTM. If no action is required the RO should add a case note to clarify that no further action is necessary.

Other correspondence

Any ‘other’ correspondence received should be sent straight to the Customer Service Manager (Emma Harrison) immediately to ensure correct logging and targets are met. ‘Other’ correspondence would be:

  • Complaints
  • MP letters
  • Councillor letters
  • Requests for information
  • Any other letter that doesn’t fall under general correspondence.

The Customer Service Manager (CSM) will then allocate to the appropriate person to provide a response.

Freedom of Information / Data Protection Act

The procedure for dealing with requests under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act is as follows:

  1. Written request (eg letter, e-mail, fax) received by local team or sent directly to NSO

  2. If received by the local team the request must be forwarded to Customer Services Manager for Housing Allowances, Emma Harrison

  3. The NSO will contact the appropriate person to respond to the request ie the local team or a senior manager and forward a copy of the request to the guidance helpdesk

  4. The guidance team will assist with the reply or agree the reply where necessary

  5. NSO will complete necessary statistical returns etc to Customer Services Team who liaise direct with HMRC

  6. Reply issued by local team or whoever responsible, and copy of final response copied to NSO for stats and recording purposes. A final copy is also sent to guidance

In order to follow this protocol, local teams must be able to recognise requests made under FOI, which is straightforward if FOI is quoted, but requests to be treated as requests made under FOI do not need to mention FOI, so the best procedure is, if in doubt, contact guidance for help.

  • DPA and access to information held on office files
  • Information requests under FOI
  • Redaction of lettings information

Information requests under FOI

(v2.1 2009)

Rent Officers dealing with requests for information made under the Freedom of Information Act.

Background

Requests for information take many forms and are nothing new to rent officers. Our policy is increasingly to be open and to respond to requests quickly and in any event within statutory time limits.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI' or the Act’) extended `open government’ requirements on departments and agencies, including ours. The Act provides that all information held by us must be disclosed to members of the public unless that information is subject to certain exemptions (eg personal data or data published elsewhere). It applies to all information originated by us or received from other sources and applies to all written information requests, even if they do not mention the Act.

Environmental Information Regulations also provide specifically for members of the public to have access about environmental information.

Making material available on the internet

As a result of FOI a greater amount of information and documents generated by us have to be published on the VOA internet site and we are working to ensure that as much information as possible about how we operate appears there.

Exempt information

There are 2 types of exemptions under the Act:

(i) information which is absolutely exempt from release

(ii) information which is subject to the `public interest’ test

The first category includes records of court proceedings. In addition, most personal data is absolutely exempt under FOI. For other types of information we must decide whether the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in releasing it.

Advice should be sought from the Guidance Unit in applying the public interest test or on the exemptions in general if there is any uncertainty about whether any exemption might apply.

‘Absolute’ exemptions

  • Information which is accessible by other means, such as information which is already public (eg legislation or information already available on our web site and or in our publications)
  • Personal information about living individuals (unless those living individuals have consented to disclosure) (N.B. people may make requests for personal information held about themselves under the Data Protection Act)
  • Information supplied by or relating to the security services
  • Court or tribunal records or information filed during court proceedings
  • Information subject to Parliamentary privilege, and information held by either House of Parliament
  • Information prejudicial to the conduct of the business of either House of Parliament
  • Information provided voluntarily in confidence (eg lettings information)
  • Information subject to statutory bars to disclosure

‘Qualified’ exemptions (subject to a `Public Interest’ test)

  • Information intended for future publication
  • Information prejudicial to national security
  • Information prejudicial to international relations and national interests
  • Information prejudicial to legal and criminal proceedings
  • Information prejudicial to the prevention or detection of crime and the apprehension or prosecution of offenders
  • Information prejudicial to internal relations within the UK
  • Information relating to the formulation of government policy
  • Information which if released would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs
  • Communications with the Royal Family or information about Honours
  • Environmental Information (must be disclosed under the Environmental Information Regulations)
  • Information that carries legal professional privilege
  • Commercial confidential information and information prejudicial to a company or organisation’s commercial interests

Personal data

Documents which contain personal information relating to a third party must not be made available on request or published if disclosure of the information would contravene the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). Obviously the third party may have already given consent to the release of their personal data which would make disclosure acceptable. If, for example, a landlord requested information about a Housing Benefit claim, they are not entitled to the information without evidence that the claimant consents. We may sometimes have to release personal data because we have another statutory obligation to do so (eg the Fair Rent Register) and this is not a breach of the DPA. Individuals may want to have access to data held by us about themselves. In such cases, refer to separate guidance on requests made for personal information under the DPA.

Dealing with information requests

Requests for information under FOI have to be in permanent (i.e. written form) which includes e-mail, but they need not mention the Act. The assumption should be all our documents and internal operational policies should be made available to the public on request unless there are grounds for exemption under the Act. The Act sets out the exemptions, under which we must refuse or can decide not to release information following a request from a member of the public.

Hard copies of documents (that do not contain personal information about the applicant or about someone else) can be released if:

  • they are posted on the internet in any event
  • they are not protectively marked in line with the Agency’s security policy
  • they do not fall within the exemptions listed above

If staff are in doubt about how the exemptions should be interpreted, they should seek the advice of the Guidance Unit.

Charging and vexatious requests

It is not our policy to charge for information or documents we provide, other than the statutory £1 charge for certified copies of a rent register entry. However we should be helpful and provide single hard copies of material readily available on our website. It is reasonable and acceptable to refuse to provide information that is readily available elsewhere eg copies of legislation.

Vexatious and costly requests can be refused under FOI and we can decide to charge to supply information depending on the amount of time and resources involved. If you think these circumstances might apply, you should seek the advice of the Guidance Unit before refusing to provide information for these reasons.

Time limits for replying

Staff should try to ensure that requests are responded to as soon as possible and within our customer service target times. In any event, the Information Commissioner expects such enquiries to be dealt with within a strict outside time limit of 20 days (in very exceptional circumstances extensions may be allowable to allow for research and collation or extended consideration of the public interest test).

Monitoring and notification of requests received

In the event of any requests from members of the public that specifically cite FOI the Guidance Unit should be notified by e-mail with details of the request. Guidance can then give support and advice on the response and specifically whether to release the information requested or what exemptions might apply. Guidance will also need a copy of the final (ie dated) response so they can keep a record of the number of requests received, how long we took to respond and what exemptions we have used. This information is required as such requests are monitored across Government on a quarterly basis.

Requests for internal review of refusal to provide information

The Information Commissioner has a duty to consider complaints from members of the public who consider that we or another public authority has failed to comply with FOI. Usually the Information Commissioner will not investigate such a complaint until it has been investigated internally by us by way of Internal Review of the way in which the request was dealt with. Responses to information requests that refuse or withhold all or part of the information requested should contain a standard paragraph giving information on the right to an Internal review. This paragraph can be obtained from Guidance and the wording must not be amended.

Requests for Internal Review of the way in which we have handled requests for information under the Act or the Environmental Information Regulations should be undertaken by another member of staff senior to the person who responded to the original request. Any requests for Internal Review must be referred to Guidance for advice on how to proceed.

Environmental information

The Environmental Information Regulations (EIR), first introduced in 1992, provide specifically for members of the public to have access about environmental information. New EIR introduced under Section 74 (3) of the Act has further enforced these rights.

The definition of “environmental information” is very wide. It includes “the state of any water or air….any soil or any…other land”. It also includes “any activities or measures (including activities giving rise to noise or any other nuisance)” which adversely affect water, air, soil and land and any environmental management programmes the public body might adopt.

Unlike other requests under FOI, requests for environmental information do not have to be in writing. The exemptions allowing refusal to respond to such requests are narrower than for FOI.

If you receive a request for information from a member of the public about environmental matters (eg pollution or car usage by our staff), you should first seek advice from the Guidance Unit.

  • FOI and DPA protocols
  • FOI
  • DPA
  • FOI and DPA

Information retention

(v1.2 2013)

Rent Officer practice in relation to retention of paper records.

1. Introduction

This Information Retention guidance covers rent officers’ operational casework files and other information obtained as part of RO functions. It is designed to provide an efficient, cost and space effective, consistent filing system, whilst meeting our responsibilities under data protection legislation. This guidance relates specifically to operational casework files and associated information.

Personnel, management, administration and other VOA files are not covered by this guidance.

2. Overview

It is a key principle behind our filing policy that as much filing as is possible should be electronic. There are situations where there is no alternative to paper records (for instance: where there are paper applications). However we are trying to keep these situations to a minimum, to keep as much information as possible on the relevant VICTER electronic case file record and to remove as much unnecessary paperwork as possible.

A key development in this respect is the scanning of documents and the attaching of these scanned documents to the VICTER case record. Specific guidance on the retention of paper documents once they have been scanned and attached electronically to file records in the VICTER system is included below.

(It should be noted that scanned documents are attached to the original VICTER case and that if it is necessary for that case to be dumped from VICTER and subsequently re-keyed onto the system, the Network Support Office must carry this out in order to have the attachments re-attached to the re-keyed case, otherwise they may be lost.)

There should be an on-going review of paper files to remove paperwork and files from manual filing systems when the timescales below have elapsed.

3. Housing Benefit files

Paper HB referral forms are stored in date order of receipt in the Network Support Office and would not normally be needed once the details have been input onto VICTER. Rent officers should take the referral details as transcribed onto VICTER as an accurate reflection of the paper referral. Referral forms over 3 months old should be removed and securely disposed of.

Complex referrals such as those relating to supported accommodation, including schedules of services etc, should also be scanned onto the VICTER case, and the papers treated as above.

There should be no other paperwork kept for HB cases. Any inspection sheets or notes taken during the course of the case should be entered onto VICTER at the appropriate screen. ‘Case notes’ on VICTER should be used to note anything that does not fit anywhere else.

Subject to exceptions which have to be approved through the team manager and senior management all correspondence including representations received for redetermination cases should be scanned and attached electronically to the relevant case on VICTER. The paper documents may then be securely disposed of after 3 months.

Any paperwork that is kept longer than this should be reported to their line manager, which will then be approved at senior management level.

4. Fair rent files

Any paper files where there has been no activity (i.e. an application for registration of fair rent) for 5 years should be removed and destroyed. The only records retained for such cases are those on VICTER.

Paper applications including RR1s, service schedules and any correspondence received are scanned and attached to the VICTER case record. The attachments are retained on VICTER so the paper applications may be securely disposed of after 3 months.

Files where there has been activity within the past 5 years should still be destroyed on the basis that all relevant paperwork is retained on VICTER for the latest applications received.

The following documents may be scanned to the most recent VICTER case:

  • any tenancy agreement
  • any furniture inventory
  • the most recent plan of the property, (and if necessary a plan of the property as let if the tenant has carried out substantial improvements/changes during the course of the tenancy)
  • any other information that is specifically referred to on the current rent register
  • this list may not be exhaustive – if in doubt please seek guidance

Once scanned and retained electronically, paper copies should be securely disposed of.

Notes which should be electronically attached to the VICTER case record include summaries of important points raised during the registration that might impact on future registrations. Rent officers are required to record brief summaries of such information but should not retain copious notes which serve no practical purpose. An example of such a file note for electronic retention includes consultation notes. Paper copies should not be retained.

Any paperwork kept for more than 5 years should be reported to team manager for approval by senior managers.

5. Rent registers

The only paper copy rent register is the archive. Current rent register sheets produced before VICTER (prior to 2003) must be archived and stored for possible future reference. Any other paper copies including registrations made between now and 2003 should be destroyed.

There may still be occasions where a new application is received where the most recent registration was made prior to the introduction of IT. In such cases the details of the current registration will need to be taken from the archived public register; the parties may also provide details that enable the rent officer to find the current registration in the public register.

6. Non-statutory advice

Any paperwork or paper files for non-statutory advice (dealt with in the “informal advice” area of VICTER) should not be kept for longer than 3 months after the end of the case. This refers to the applications for Equivalent Fair Rent for Almshouses. Any cases where retention of paperwork for more than 3 months is contemplated should be cleared with the guidance unit. The information for future reference will be retained electronically on the VICTER record, and any necessary invoicing information will be retained by the finance department.

7. Lettings information paperwork and VIS records

Rent officers may obtain paperwork containing lettings information. This could either be paperwork produced by third parties, such as agents’ lettings lists or rent rolls, or paperwork produced by us, pro-formas for instance. Any relevant information on such paperwork should be transcribed onto VIS at the earliest possible moment so it can be accessed for our valuation and determination roles.

The original paperwork should be labelled with the collector’s name and the dates of collection and entry onto VIS. In addition the contacts name should be recorded as well as appropriate notes about the property and rent achieved. It is the rent officers’ responsibility to store the information securely. The team manager will audit the storage of lettings information to ensure that the agreed protocols are being followed. Such confirmed and recorded lettings information should be retained for 2 years in order to fulfil the audit requirement to be able to check the data used to compile the lists of rents used for the compilation of Local Housing Allowances, and to fulfil the requirements of the Office for National Statistics as they use the data to help calculate the Consumer Prices Index.

8. Disposal of paperwork

Any paperwork being disposed of must be placed in the secure recycling receptacles in VOA offices. Under no circumstances should any paperwork from any rent officer files be disposed of by any other method or at any other site without clearance from the Area Manager. This includes disposal of paperwork by all staff in all circumstances, including remote workers.

Redaction of lettings information

(v1 2013)

Rent Officer practice in relation to omitting certain information before sharing lettings data with third parties.

It is important we are consistent in providing information to members of the public. Lettings information cannot be given out to members of the public in the format in which it is stored on VIS. Full addresses are capable of being personal data and the process of making the data ‘confidential’ can be time consuming. Postcodes can be unique and are capable of being personal data. Obviously, we must not breach our Data Protection or commercial confidentiality responsibilities.

Explaining our determinations

For the above reasons, lettings information lists (intended for individual members of the public to support our decision-making) must be requested from VICTER in ‘confidential’ format (which automatically removes some columns) and must then be made completely ‘anonymous’ (‘redacted’) by removing any of the following that remain:

  • landlords/agents and other source details
  • all road names
  • the last half of the postcode of properties (ie to leave SK10 instead of SK10 1XY)

The Guidance team usually recommends that a maximum of the following columns of information are provided when lettings information is sent to a claimant or their representative:

  • Market rent
  • Ineligible services
  • Net ret
  • Period (Cal month etc)
  • Trans’ (Y or N)
  • Date of entry
  • address (as redacted)
  • postcode (as redacted)
  • property type
  • dwelling type
  • sole LR
  • sole BR
  • sole rooms

The redaction of other columns allows the LI to fit neatly on a page. We must also provide similar lists from which we have extrapolated or interpolated where appropriate.

For some enquiries, instead of providing LI lists, it may be sufficient to tell enquirers the number of pieces of transactional evidence used in reaching decisions. We normally only provide LI when specifically asked for it. If appropriate, we can give additional information such as explaining the spread of the evidence within the BRMA. We should also explain the significance of transactional evidence compared with ‘supporting’ or non-transactional evidence, if this is appropriate for the list provided.

To help explain a decision, rent officers could in certain circumstances send claimants (or solicitors or their representatives) a graph showing the spread of transactional and supporting evidence used, or a GIS map showing the spread of lettings information or evidence across the locality or BRMA. However, as above, the provision of such graphical information in response to enquiries must be cleared first with the Guidance Unit in the interests of quality assurance and ensuring consistency in the responses that we give.

In isolation, providing lettings information without contextual explanations can be misleading. Rent officers and their managers should be able to demonstrate that they have gathered a full picture of the rental market in reaching their decisions. It may be appropriate to give details of data that has been extrapolated or interpolated from, in accordance with rent officers’ guidelines, or to explain how socio-economic information or HB referral data has been taken into account in order to add to this full picture of the rental market. Rent officers should explain that lettings information is used to guide expert decision-makers but, ultimately, determinations are a matter of professional judgement. Again, such explanations should be cleared by the Guidance Unit prior to despatch.

Lists of rents

Requests for the data used to compile Local Housing Allowances, the lists of rents, should, for consistency, all be referred to the LHA helpdesk for the information to be provided centrally.

Many requests for our data are received electronically, by email, and increasingly this is the preferred method of providing information in response. Great care should be taken if any redacted data is being provided electronically, because even if a spreadsheet is redacted and converted to a PDF document, it may be possible for that document to be reconverted by the recipient and the redacted data revealed. The recommended VOA policy on this is for the redacted document to be printed, scanned, and then emailed as a PDF. An alternative for those with limited or no access to a scanner or a printer is to create a new document or spreadsheet and copy the redacted information into it, column by column or field by field. The crucial element to our policy is never to send redacted documents containing background data electronically outside of the organisation.

Comparables and representations

When dealing with registration of rent casework, landlords and tenants and their representatives may submit lettings information in support of their requested rent. It is vital to ensure we comply with data protection provisions to ensure that such representations are redacted similarly to data from VIS used to explain our decisions, by removing any information which may lead to the identification of a specific address or a living individual. House numbers, road names and the second half of the post codes must be carefully blanked out. Only then can the representations be safely copied to the other party to the application for rent registration. They must be copied to the other party to serve the interests of natural justice, to allow the opportunity of counter representations.

  • Judicial reviews
  • Explaining FR valuations
  • Freedom of Information Act – dealing with information requests
  • Data Protection Act
  • FOI/DPA protocols