Freedom Of Information
In 2008 and 2009 several complaints were made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) about LBH’s failure to:
* say whether they hold information when it is requested (statutory duty to confirm or deny).
* provide the information or respond in the statutory 20 working day period.
* provide advice and assistance as required under the legislation.
* apply the cost of “locating, retrieving and extracting information” rules correctly by claiming they exceeded the statutory maximum of £450
in cases when they are minimal.
* carry out internal reviews in a timely manner when a complaint is made.
* operate a single stage internal review procedure in line with ICO guidance.
On 3rd June 2009 an ICO Enforcement Officer wrote to the LBH Borough Solicitor with his concerns and seeking assurances about future practices. He hoped formal action against the Council would not be necessary but said “.. we may yet proceed to formal enforcement action”
LBH failed to acknowledge this letter and only replied after 5 reminders on 15th October. They said they were reviewing their FOI policies, procedures and structures.
The same ICO Enforcement Officer wrote again on 27th October. He expressed concerns about the priority and resources LBH were allocating to their obligations under the FOI Act and the EIR (Environmental Information Regulations) and their failure to cover the EIR in their procedures. He asked for information on staffing, numbers of requests for information and internal reviews received in 2009 and how long it had taken to deal with them.
Again LBH failed to to acknowledge the letter. They were sent a reminder on 9th December and eventually replied on the 15th December.
They only had one specialist FOI Officer. They said that “ it is only recently that we are getting a clear picture of the scope of the EIR and what is Environmental Information” (The EIR came into force on 1st Jan 2005 so it has taken LBH almost 5 years to understand their obligations under it).
The ICO Enforcement Officer wrote again on 11th January 2010 expressing his concerns about LB Hillingdon’s system for logging and tracking requests for both information and reviews. He also asked for response times statistics.
After 2 reminders from the ICO LBH eventually replied on 4th March. In 2009 only 43% of responses were made within the 20 days statutory maximum.
On 18th March the ICO wrote saying:
“As a regulator we would be unable to accept the systemic non-compliance represented by the figures for 2009”
Referring to LBH’s complaints procedure “As a matter of urgency, we advise the Council to amend this procedure to a single stage process”.
“We have encountered some delays in receiving response from the Council during this investigation..... If a response is not received within this time frame (20 working days) an information notice will be issued”.
In August the ICO took the extraordinary step of issuing two formal Decision Notices against LB Hillingdon. In both cases the council was criticised for its failure to say whether or not the information requested was held ( duty to confirm or deny) and to provide an appropriate response within the statutory 20 working days.
In the first information was requested about the cost of providing accommodation for asylum seekers. LBH took over 6 months to respond. See Decision Notice
In the other Paul Andrews had asked LBH for information about their programme to replace parking meters. The request was made in March 2009. After three communications from him and two from the Information Commissioners Office the council were finally persuaded to respond. They did so in March 2010!! See Decision Notice
The ICO have written to Mr Andrews saying “...the Commissioner is aware of issues relating to LB Hillingdon’s compliance with the Act and currently there is a an open investigation case regarding this.....our Good Practice and Enforcement Department ... are currently monitoring LB Hillingdon section 10 performance over a 3 month period, which begins at the end of this month. ... evidence of repeated or severe delays in responding to requests might prompt further action”
Info requests made via the WhatDoTheyKnow web site:
All requests to L B Hillingdon
Requests made by Hillingdon Watch
Other Information requests made by Hillingdon-Watch