ICO shouts departments must answer FOI requests on time

The Information Commissioner and Big Brother Watch have said that more needs to be done to ensure response times for freedom of information (FOI) requests are decreased. 

In June 2011, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Cabinet Office made public commitments to improve their timeliness in dealing with FOI requests after the ICO found that they were consistently failing to meet the required standard. 

The ICO today said it was pleased with the progress, which has seen both authorities improving response times to 85 percent within the time limit of 20 days. However, it has forced six public authorities, including the Welsh Government, to sign and commit to speeding up the time they take to respond to requests of this kind. 

Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said:  “While both the MoD and the Cabinet Office have put a good deal of effort into making significant improvements to their FOI handling processes, it is vital that these improvements are sustained.”

He added that six of the 18 authorities the organisation monitored between 1 April and 30 June 2011 “fell below the required standard and have been told to make changes or risk formal enforcement action.”

Big Brother Watch agreed that departments need to get their houses in order. Nick Pickles, director, told TechEye: “A third of the organisations monitored failed to provide the public with information they were entitled to within the legal time limit – we are still a long way from transparent government.

 “It is to be welcomed that some departments have improved their performance, but clearly problems remain. With rumblings from within Whitehall about the burden of Freedom of Information laws, the ICO has a tough job ensuring that the standards of accountability and openness that have been established are not watered down.

“We will be fighting hard to make sure that not only does performance improve, but that British Government does not succumb to the temptation of secrecy and roll back the progress that has been made in recent years.”