Friday, April 04, 2008

Department of Health must improve FOI request handling

The Department of Health has become the second government department to be issued with a practice recommendation by the Information Commissioner's Office. An ICO press release states:
The Department of Health has failed on numerous occasions to offer appropriate advice and assistance to people making requests under the Act and is delaying the conduct of internal reviews beyond a reasonable timescale. Existing guidance highlights that public authorities should conduct internal reviews within 20 working days (40 days in exceptional circumstances) yet the Department took 90 days in one case and 80 days in two other cases.

The Department has repeatedly applied blanket exemptions to requested information with the effect, in some instances, of withholding entire documents from release. The Department has also been extending the timescale for consideration of the public interest test, exceeding the limits set out in ICO guidance.

The practice recommendation follows an ICO decision earlier this year involving the Department after it breached the Act several times over a request for information relating to its electronic recruitment service. The ICO had numerous concerns, including that the Department could not find numerous documents, filed between August 2003 and September 2004, relating to its electronic recruitment service. This prompted the ICO to carry out an audit of 40 complaints received about the Department. The Information Commissioner is concerned that the Department’s current levels of resource may not support the volume of FOI requests. The Information Commissioner recommends that the Department reviews the staffing and resource given to freedom of information in order to improve request handling.
A practice recommendation cannot be directly enforced. However, failure to comply with a practice recommendation may lead to a failure to comply with the Act which could end in the ICO issuing an enforcement notice.

Read the practice recommendation

Decision notice FS50083381 Department of Health

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