The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is monitoring the Cabinet Office over the timeliness of its responses to freedom of information (FOI) requests again, despite the department signing an undertaking to make improvements three years ago.
Under the FOI Act, a public authority must respond to an FOI request within 20 working days. However, the ICO has received a significant number of complaints about the Cabinet Office’s response times, which has led to the department being monitored
The Crown Prosecution Service and Hackney Council are also being put under scrutiny for their performance.
The ICO will examine the three authorities’ responses to FOI requests received between 1 January and 31 March 2014. If there is no sign of improvement, the ICO may serve an enforcement notice, which requires the authorities to take specified steps to ensure they comply with the law. If this is ignored, it could lead to the authority being found in contempt of court.
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said: “Responding to FOI requests within the statutory time limit of 20 working days is basic to delivering transparent and open government. While extensions may sometimes be justifiable for particularly complex requests, these three authorities have been selected for monitoring after serious shortcomings were identified in the time each of them has been taking to respond to FOI requests.
“It is particularly disappointing to see that the Cabinet Office has failed to maintain the improvements recorded three years ago when the authority was also monitored over the timeliness of its FOI responses. On that occasion, the Cabinet Office signed an undertaking to raise their game. Their inclusion on the latest monitoring list should act as a warning to others that lessons learnt from monitoring have to be sustained.”
The ICO also published results of monitoring periods last year, which saw some authorities improve under the scrutiny, but others continued to struggle. For example, the Metropolitan Police Service, which was being monitored between April to June, had its monitoring period extended by a further three months because it did not make “satisfactory” improvements in the initial timeframe.
“While recognising that the service is still going through significant reorganisation, [the ICO] is currently considering the results from the extended period before deciding whether further action is required," said the ICO.
The Home Office, which was being watched between July and September 2003, also had its monitoring period extended by three months.
Meanwhile, the London Borough of Barnet, Manchester City Council, South Tyneside Council and Sussex Police have made enough progress that they are now off the watchlist.