William Eichler 07 October 2015

Councils allowed to charge for property searches following landmark ruling

A ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) means that local authorities will be able to charge and offset the costs of staff time spent producing information for property searches and other types of environmental information.

The decision comes after a number of disputes between local authorities and property search agencies over the costs of obtaining property search information under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, which provides public access to recorded environmental information held by public authorities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

One such dispute was the test case on this issue brought by East Sussex County Council and 314 other local authorities, along with the Local Government Association, the Property Search Group (PSG) and the Information Commissioner (ICO).

Earlier decisions by courts in England and Wales meant that public authorities could only recover a limited amount of the costs (photocopying and postage, for example) of supplying environmental information.

The ECJ’s decision has now made it possible for authorities to recover the costs of staff time, although this does not include costs such as maintaining databases.

Cllr Claire Kober, lead resources portfolio holder for the Local Government Association (LGA), said: ‘This decision is good news for councils who will now have clarity over the costs that they can recoup for providing, finding and sending environmental information.’

‘Councils use significant amounts of staff time and resources providing the hundreds of thousands of requests they can receive each year from property search agencies. It is right that local government can continue to charge for this and that local taxpayers aren’t expected to foot the bill.’

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