ICO takes action on FOIA enforcement

ICO takes action on FOIA enforcement

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) today announced the consequences that public authorities will face if they fail to meet requirements identified in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) or the Environmental Information Regulations Act 2004 (EIR).

If an organisation regularly fails to issue a response on time, refuse to disclose information without specifying an exemption, or if they fail to respond to a request altogether the ICO will intervene. The measures are designed to ensure individuals get speedier responses from public bodies.

Head of Enforcement at the ICO, Mick Gorrill, said: “Organisations that take FOIA seriously will have advice and support from the ICO. The public bodies that continually fail to meet their legal obligations will face regulatory action. Using FOIA can take too long and is sometimes overly cumbersome for members of the public. After monitoring authorities’ compliance with the Act, we will take action against those that abuse the system.”

It has also been announced that the ICO will be making more use of regulatory powers including Enforcement Notices, Undertakings and Practice Recommendations in an attempt to improve compliance. If there is evidence that a public authority is failing to meet its obligations, particularly where organisations fail to respond to requests in a timely manner, regulatory action will be taken.

Graham Smith, Deputy Commissioner, said: “The Freedom of Information Act is a success story and has helped many organisations become far more transparent. Information rights have never been so important and organisations must have transparency at the heart of their culture. Although most organisations are implementing FOIA effectively, we will apply robust and effective sanctions against those organisations which routinely fail to comply with the Act.”

Seven forms of ICO regulatory action (not necessarily delivered in this order):

  1. Assessment - Designed to determine whether an authority is following good practice.
  2. Enforcement Notice - A formal notice requiring an authority to take specific action set out by the ICO.
  3. Information Notice - A notice requiring an authority to supply the ICO with information stated in the notice.
  4. Decision Notice - Details the outcome of the ICO’s investigation into an individual case. The Commissioner may use these to publically highlight specific examples of an organisation’s failure to comply with the FOI Act.
  5. Practice Recommendation - This will specify the steps which the ICO feels are necessary in order to promote conformity with the Codes of Practice.
  6. Undertakings - This document will commit an authority to a particular course of action to improve its compliance with FOI or EIR.
  7. Report to Parliament - Failure to take account of a practice recommendation or an Enforcement Notice may be included in the Commissioner’s Annual Report to Parliament.

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