Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Departments monitored over FOI

Christopher Graham says organsiations must meet their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act
Christopher Graham says organsiations must meet their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act

Education and pensions chiefs will be kept under watch for failing to respond to more than eight out of 10 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests on time, the data watchdog has said.

The Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will be monitored for three months, said the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

The departments, along with the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland and Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, were selected as they failed to respond to 85% of FOI requests within the time limit of 20 working days.

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: "This is not good enough and we expect these authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure that they are meeting their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act."

The ICO monitors organisations to form a view of their performance in adhering to the FOI Act and contacts authorities if it has received six or more complaints concerning a delay within a six-month period.

The FOI Act gives a person the right to ask any public sector organisation for all the recorded information they have on any subject. Requests must be responded to within 20 working days of receipt.

Some 37,313 information requests were made to central Government offices in the first three quarters of 2012, with many more made to local councils, NHS bodies, police forces and other public authorities.

In 2012, requests revealed that Roald Dahl and Lucian Freud both turned down the Queen's honours, that 900 police officers have criminal records and there are 43,586,400 fake pound coins in circulation.

A DfE spokeswoman said: "The number of requests for information received by the department has more than doubled in the space of three years. However, we are clear that delays are unacceptable and are co-operating fully with the Information Commissioner's Office to improve our performance."

A DWP spokesman said: "The number of requests for information received by the DWP has trebled over the last four years, from around 1,500 in 2008 to a predicted 4,700 in 2012. This means the DWP now receives more FoI requests than any other central Government department, which has clearly presented a challenge for the Department."

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