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MPs urged to bring social housing providers under FOI

Social housing block

The Campaign for Freedom of Information is urging MPs to support an amendment to the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill to bring social housing providers under the Freedom of Information Act.

The amendment is contained in proposed New Clause 6 tabled at the bill’s Commons report stage by the Shadow Housing minster Matthew Pennycook MP and drafted with the assistance of Greater Manchester Law Centre. The bill’s report stage is on Wednesday 1 March 2023. 

The Campaign’s briefing highlights over 20 examples of providers refusing requests for information about fire safety, health hazards, empty properties and other issues.

The Bill proposes a new and alternative non-statutory ‘access to information scheme’ for social housing tenants. So far, details of how it will operate in practice are almost non-existent. It is not clear, for example:

  • what the time limits for responding to requests will be
  • who (if anyone), aside from tenants, will be able to make requests
  • on what grounds registered providers will be able to refuse requests 
  • whether providers will have to disclose exempt information if the public interest justifies it, as happens under FOI. 

We believe a more obvious and effective solution would be to bring social housing providers under the Freedom of Information Act.

This has already been done in Scotland, where registered social landlords were brought under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act in November 2019.[1] A 2021 report by the Scottish Information Commissioner found that social landlords they had ‘responded well’ to being covered by the Act:[2]

  • 97% of organisations responding to the SIC’s survey were confident in their ability to respond effectively to FOI requests
  • 84% of requests for information held by registered social landlords or their subsidiaries resulted in some or all of the requested information being disclosed.
  • 81% were publishing more information as a result of FOI.
  • Organisations have not been overwhelmed by FOI, with 57% reporting a ‘small’ impact on staff workload, and 95% reporting 24 requests or fewer during 2020.
  • Most organisations used existing staffing and structures to resource FOI, with only 8% of organisations employing new staff.

In January 2022 the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) called for registered social landlords in other parts of the UK to be made subject to FOIA:

‘The ICO believes that housing associations that provide social housing should be covered by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in the same way as housing provided by local authorities. We believe access to information laws should remain relevant and appropriate to how public services are delivered.’ 

‘While the ICO welcomes the commitment to providing some information to tenants, the scope [of the proposed access to information scheme] appears narrower than FOI in a number of significant ways.’[3]

Read the Campaign’s detailed briefing for MPs. 

[1] https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2019/143/contents/made

[2] The report examined the experience of registered social landlords over their first year of FOI, found that 97% of organisations responding to the Commissioner’s survey were confident in their ability to respond effectively to FOI requests, while 81% were publishing more information as a result of FOI. https://www.itspublicknowledge.info/registered-social-landlords-responding-well-to-foi

[3] https://committees.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/42099/pdf/

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