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  • FoI Act “undermined by delays”

    Posted on July 3rd, 2009 admin No comments

    Long delays by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in investigating freedom of information complaints are undermining the effectiveness of the FOI Act, according to a new report by the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

    The report analyses nearly 500 formal decision notices issued by the ICO in the 18 months to 31 March 2009. The decisions were made under the FOI Act and the associated Environmental Information Regulations. It finds that -

    • on average it took 19.7 months from the date of a complaint to the ICO to the date on which the ICO‚Äôs decision on the complaint was issued
    • in 46% of cases it took between 1 and 2 years from complaint to decision
    • a quarter of formal decisions took between 2 and 3 years while 5% of cases (23 complaints) took more than 3 years
    • the longest case took 3 years and 10 and a half months
    • only 24% of decisions were issued within 12 months of the complaint.

    The report also found that on average the ICO’s investigation into a complaint did not begin until 8 months after the complaint had been received. In 28% of cases, there was a delay of more than a year before the investigation began and 19 cases waited more than 18 months. One complaint had been with the ICO for 22 months before the investigation began.

    Link to report.

    Link to table of decisions.

    And here is a response from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

    A spokesperson for the ICO said:

    “We are fully aware of the issues raised in the report by the Campaign for Freedom of Information. The FOI caseload has been discussed in two sessions of the Justice Select Committee in January and February this year. We have been consistently open about performance levels. Whilst only 10% of complaints result in a Decision Notice, these cases take longer to resolve than we would like. We are working with the resources available to us and continue to make further improvements to speed up our complaint handling. Last month we published a new Freedom of Information strategy outlining how we will resolve more cases informally and shorten the length of Decision Notices. The strategy also outlines the need for more proactive disclosure of official information by public authorities. Despite the improvements already made with additional funding from the Ministry of Justice, the popularity of FOI means that the number of complaints we are receiving is outstripping forecasts. We continue to make changes to resolve the increasing numbers of complaints as quickly and efficiently as possible within the resources available to us.”

     For those interested I had already reported on the case that holds the record for the longest delay here.

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