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ICO takes action against government departments for delays

John Edwards the UK Information Commissioner
Image: Information Commissioner's Office

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken action against two government departments for failing to comply with FOI time limits.

In June 2022 published FOI statistics revealed that the Department for International Trade (DIT) had failed to comply with the FOI Act’s time limits in over 50% of requests during the first quarter of 2022. Our director told The Times (£):

“There could hardly be a clearer case for the ICO’s intervention.”

On 8th September 2022 the ICO announced that it had issued the Department with a legally binding enforcement notice requiring it:

  • to respond to all overdue requests within 35 days
  • publish an action plan to close 89% of requests within the statutory deadline of 20 working days. (This was the average figure for government departments in 2021). 

"For the first time in seven years, the ICO has issued a Freedom of Information enforcement notice, which clearly marks the start of our new approach to regulating the Act.”

“I advise public authorities to take note and learn lessons from the action we have taken today, as we will be making greater use of our powers under the Act to drive good practice and compliance.”

This is exactly the action we have been pressing the ICO to take and is a welcome sign the ICO is beginning to take enforcement of FOI time limits seriously. 

Until now the ICO had only issued two enforcement notices dealing with delays since the FOI Act came into force in 2005 and neither involved a Whitehall department. 

In addition, the ICO issued a non-binding practice recommendation to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which has also been failing to meet FOI time limits.

However, BEIS (unlike DIT) has experienced a significant growth in the volume of FOI requests and had been responsive to the ICO’s efforts to persuade it to address its problems.  The practice recommendation sets out steps the Department should take, including the development of an action plan detailing how it will improve its performance.

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