ICO toughens up on Freedom of Information Act compliance

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is to get tougher with public authorities that are slow or unco-operative in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) is to get tougher with public authorities that are slow or unco-operative in responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The move comes after the ICO found that about a quarter of Freedom of Information Act complaints to the ICO related partly to the time taken for public bodies to respond to requests under the act or the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR).

Where there is evidence that a public authority is regularly or seriously failing to meet its obligations, the ICO will not hesitate to take regulatory action, particularly where organisations fail to respond to requests in a timely manner, the ICO said.

Its head of enforcement, Mick Gorrill, said, "Using Freedom of Information Act can take too long and is sometimes overly cumbersome for members of the public. After monitoring authorities' compliance with the act, we will take action against those that abuse the system."

Organisations will face ICO action if they regularly fail to issue a response on time, refuse to disclose information without specifying an exemption, or if they fail to respond to a request altogether.

The Information Commissioner's Office can issue enforcement notices, require undertakings and make practice recommendations to improve compliance. The ultimate sanction is a report to parliament.

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