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Seven London councils are slammed for delaying responses to 'freedom of information' requests

PUBLISHED: 18:00 06 March 2019

Freedom of Information report calls for acrtion against councils delaying responses to requests. Picture: CFOI

Freedom of Information report calls for acrtion against councils delaying responses to requests. Picture: CFOI

Freedom of Information campaign

Some local authorities are failing to comply with the law on Freedom of Information by delaying responses to requests before the legal deadline in as many as four in 10 cases.

Freedom of Information's director Maurice Frankel... Freedom of Information's director Maurice Frankel... "Local authorities face no real repercussions for ignoring requests." Picture: Angus Young

Many town halls even have guidance errors which often lead to requests being wrongly refused, according to a Campaign for Freedom of Information report.

Complaints were made by the campaign to the Information Commission about seven London authorities failing to respond to one or more requests for information, including Hackney, Newham and Barking & Dagenham.

But Tower Hamlets improved its response to information requests last year, answering 96 per cent in time.

Hackney failed to answer a request for more than four months and finally supplied statistics after 110 working days when it was contacted by the Commission.

Two complaints were made against Newham Council by the campaign. One was for a request it claimed went unanswered for 136 days, seeking information for the third time about social housing built in the Olympic Park, after the previous two requests were refused. The other request was for copies of two fire risk assessments at an address which it said took 84 days to answer instead of 21.

Another complaint was about Barking & Dagenham claiming it didn’t hold documents that were actually on its own website, taking 55 days to respond. It finally handed over the requested data when the Information Commissioner served a Decision Notice.

The campaigners blame the Commissioner’s Office itself for failing to keep up pressure on councils that persistently breach legal deadlines.

“Local authorities face no real repercussions for ignoring requests,” campaign director Maurice Frankel said. “They even ignore the Commission pressing them to respond.

“All that happens is that they are served with a notice after six, nine or 12 months requiring them to provide information, or the reasons for refusing it.”

But east London’s local authorities generally have a good record responding to information requests, campaigners acknowledge.

Tower Hamlets’ 96pc response in time was a sharp improvement on the 87pc the year before, but neighbouring Hackney fell behind with just 66pc.

Newham responded to 83pc of its requests in time, but not so good as the 89pc the year before, while Barking & Dagenham managed 93pc last year, Redbridge 92pc and City of London 97pc.

Tower Hamlets received 2,319 requests, compared to neighbouring Hackney getting 1,954, Newham 1,858, Redbridge 1,682 and Havering 1,877.

Local authorities should publish quarterly the number of requests going unanswered in time and setting out why they’ve been delayed, the campaign report recommends.

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Freedom of Information campaign

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