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Campaign for Freedom of Information

On March 11, 2019, in Freedom of Information, by PeterSilverman
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Their report shows that public bodies and the Information Commissioner are both falling down on the job.

Apart from the occasional Decision Notice there are now few practical repercussions for authorities which consistently fail to meet FOI time limits.

 

The Campaign for Freedom of Information (CFO) was set up in 1984. It played a key role in bringing about the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It now works to defend and improve the FOI Act, advise the public about their rights to information. It is funded entirely by individual donations and grants.

The advice I have received from them over the years has been crucial to the success of Clean Highways.

In a recent report focussing on the London Boroughs they draw attention to the same problems I have been experiencing, namely the failure of public bodies to provide information in a timely manner and the failure of the Information Commissioner to take appropriate regulatory action.

It has just taken me 9 months to get Highways England to tell me that they had applied no financial penalties to their M25 contractor for underperformance in the previous 4 years. 

If a public body fails to comply with its duty anyone can complain to the Information Commissioner. They can issue a Decision Notice requiring the authority to take specified steps to comply with the legislation. They can also issue an Enforcement Notice requiring it to respond to all currently overdue requests by a set deadline.

The CFO points out however that only four Enforcement Notices have been issued since the legislation came into force in 2005, and – inexplicably – only two have ever dealt with delays.

In 2010 the Information Commissioner announced it would be taking a tougher approach to FOI enforcement:

‘Where there is evidence that a public authority is regularly or seriously failing to meet its obligations, the ICO will not hesitate to take regulatory action, particularly where organisations fail to respond to requests in a timely manner. The ICO has identified timeliness as a key target for action…’

A significant element of this approach involved monitoring individual authorities which were not dealing with requests on time.

However, in 2010, 33 authorities across the England, Wales and Northern Ireland had been monitored. Only two authorities were monitored in each of 2016 and 2017 and none appear to have been monitored in 2018.

Apart from the occasional Decision Notice the CFO point out there are now few practical repercussions for authorities which consistently fail to meet FOI time limits.

To find out more about the Campaign for Freedom of Information please go to https://www.cfoi.org.ukand @CampaignFOI.

Please also consider making a monthly donation to support their work.

Attack on the right to know – video of Maurice Frenkel, CEO of the Campaign for Freedom of Information

Peter Silverman
11th March 2019

 

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