ICO approach to FOI delays during COVID-19

In an article published on the 6th April we discussed the Information Commissioner’s announcement that it would not penalise public authorities for failing to meet FOI deadlines during the coronavirus pandemic.

The ICO’s response to a complaint submitted on 6 March 2020 provides an insight into how it is dealing with complaints about delay during the crisis.

The ICO’s usual practice when it receives evidence that a public authority has failed to respond to a FOI request within the statutory time limits is to write to the authority giving it 10 working days to respond. If it fails to comply, the ICO issues a formal Decision Notice requiring it to do so.

However, in the case below the ICO tells the complainant that it will write to the authority asking it to respond to the request, but it will not compel it to do so:

8th April 2020

Your complaint about the London Borough of Waltham Forest

Thank you for your correspondence of 6 March 2020, in which you raise a complaint about the above public authority’s failure to respond to your 27 January 2020 request for information. Please accept our apologies for the delays in reaching your complaint.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many public authorities are facing severe front line pressures and are re-deploying resources to meet those demands. The Commissioner’s view, therefore, is that public authorities require maximum flexibility to re-deploy those resources and best respond to the national crisis.

As a reasonable and proportionate regulator, in order to reduce the burden on public authorities in these unprecedented times, the Commissioner has taken the decision to amend her casework approaches (whilst it is necessary to do so).

We will write to the public authority in question to highlight the outstanding response and ask it to respond as soon as it is able to do so.

However, if the public authority reports that it is unable to respond to you at the present time, the Commissioner will not compel it to do so. Your complaint will instead remain on file, but no further action will be taken until such times as the burden on public authorities has been reduced significantly.

We are grateful for your patience and cooperation at this time. If you have further correspondence to add, please communicate by email, where possible, as the ICO is currently unable to accept post. Please ensure you quote the ICO case reference number at the top of this email.

Yours sincerely

The case officer wrote to the complainant again on 14th April informing him that the authority was unable to respond to the request at the moment, no further action would be taken against it at this time, but it would revisit the complaint once the current burden on public authorities has eased.

Note that although in the final paragraph the ICO invites the complainant to communicate with them by email if they have any correspondence to add, they also say in the third paragraph that the correspondence won’t be read until the case is revisited.

14th April 2020

Your complaint about the London Borough of Waltham Forest
 
Further to my previous correspondence of 8 April 2020, I write to inform you that the above public authority has informed the Commissioner that it is unable to provide a response to your request at the present time.
 
Whilst your complaint has been logged, and remains open, as I informed you in my previous letter, the Commissioner will not be taking further action at this moment in time. Once the current burden on public authorities has been substantially reduced, we will revisit the complaint. 
 
Please be aware that if you do choose to write to us about this case in the intervening time, correspondence will not be read by a member of our staff and you will not receive a reply until your case is revisited.
 
We recognise, again, that you may choose to withdraw your complaint at this stage and resubmit it at a later date – or you may wish to resubmit your request when the public authority is better able to respond. We ask that you let us know if that is the case. The Commissioner will apply her undue delay considerations pragmatically in the coming weeks and months in response to this situation. 
 
We are grateful for your patience and cooperation at this time. If you have further correspondence to add, please communicate by email (where possible) as the ICO is currently unable to accept post. Please ensure you quote the ICO case reference number at the top of this email. 
 
Yours sincerely

The Campaign is monitoring FOI during the coronavirus pandemic. If you have received a response from the ICO during the crisis that indicates a different approach to a complaint than that above, please let us know by email (admin@cfoi.org.uk).

Social tagging: > >

Comments are closed.