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ICO 'to get tough' on councils' FOI failings

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Councils are being warned they face tougher sanctions for failing to meet FOI deadlines.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said organisations that regularly failed to issue responses to Freedom of Information Act requests, or similar enquiries under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, could expect a hard-line response.

The ICO said it expected to make more use of enforcement notices and undertakings and practice recommendations to improve authorities’ compliance.

It added that up to one quarter of complaints from the public were over response times.

Mick Gorrill, head of enforcement at the ICO, said that beefed up action would also result when public bodies ignored requests altogether or refused to disclose information without specifying an exemption.

“Organisations that take FOIA seriously will have advice and support from the ICO,” he said.

“The public bodies that continually fail to meet their legal obligations will face regulatory action.

“Using FOIA can take too long and is sometimes overly cumbersome for members of the public. After monitoring authorities’ compliance with the act, we will take action against those that abuse the system.”

As well as enforcement notices that demand an authority takes a particular course of action in relation to a Freedom of Information Act request, the ICO can also issue an Information Notice, demanding that it is supplied with particular data.

The ICO can also name particular bodies in its annual report to Parliament if it feels that an organisation has not complied properly with an enforcement notice  or practice recommendation.

 

  • 3 Comments

Readers' comments (3)

  • With all public bodies facing severe financial constraints, FOI requests from commercial organisations and the media, in particular, place additional and unnecessary burdens on their resources. Staff time researching and responding to such requests could be better used in providing core services the public sector are there for. A review of FOI legislation should be undertaken, and consideration given to the introduction of a charge (say £10, comparable with the Data Protection charge) for each request and a limit on the number of requests which can be made in a year by an individual or an organisation.

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  • Also worth noting that the worst delay in dealing with an FOI complaint is the backlog of complaints that ICO have. Government departments are well aware that it can take ICO over a year to get round to dealing with even well evidenced complaints. ICO should get its own house in order first.

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  • Roger

    Sounds very much like somebody trying to justify their existance ahead of the spending axe swinging their way! FOI has become the bain of public bodies much in the way that no win no fee lawyers have. Both seemed like such a good idea at the time, but as usual people have worked out how to exploit them and it is the taxpayer left picking up the bill.

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