Information watchdog to crack down on Freedom of Information request failures
The head of the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has warned public bodies it will take action against those failing to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests within the required 20-day time frame, after issuing its first enforcement notice against a government department in seven years.
ICO chief John Edwards said the watchdog will be taking a renewed approach to enforcing public bodies’ compliance with FOI requests as he warned the regulator will be “making greater use of its powers”.
The warning comes after the ICO took action against two government departments over their repeated failures to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests within the statutory timeframe.
The enforcement actions come as part of the ICO’s “new approach” to regulating public bodies’ compliance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000, UK Information Commission Edwards said.
The 2000 Act gives the public the right to obtain information from the UK’s more than 100,000 public authorities, including schools, hospitals, and government departments, within 20 working days.
“Accountability and transparency in the work of public authorities is fundamental to democracy and it is the ICO’s role to ensure that people’s right to access information is protected,” Edwards said.
“I advise public authorities to take note and learn lessons from the action we have taken today, as we will be making greater use of our powers under the Act to drive good practice and compliance.”
The actions saw the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issue an enforcement notice against the Department for International Trade (DIT), in its first FOI enforcement notice against a government department in seven years.
The enforcement notice comes after data showed the DIT responded to just 19 per cent of FoI requests within the required 20-day timeframe.
The data showed more than half (55 per cent) of the DIT’s responses to FOI requests were late from January to March 2022.
The ICO also issued a practice recommendation against the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) over its “consistently low level of overall performance in respect of the timeliness of BEIS’s responses to FoI requests.”
Central government figures showed BEIS had failed to respond to a “significant” number of FOI requests within the statutory time limit, following a 55 per cent increase in the FOI requests filed to the government department since 2020.