Headlines: July 26th, 2010

Public authorities have been given details of the measures they will face if they fail routinely to meet obligations under the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations. The Information Commissioner’s Office has said it will make more use of regulatory powers.

The Commissioner said public bodies would face action if they regularly failed to issue a response on time, or refused to release information without specifying the exemption they were applying or if they failed to respond to a request altogether. The ICO said the tougher approach was designed to ensure individuals got speedier responses from public authorities.

The Head of Enforcement at the ICO, Mick Gorrill, said organisations that took the Freedom of Information Act seriously would get advice and support from the ICO but those that continually failed to meet their legal obligations would face 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,” he said.

More use would be made of powers including Enforcement Notices, Undertakings and Practice Recommendations to improve compliance. The ICO has identified timeliness as a key target for action because a quarter of the complaints it receives under the Act relate, at least in part, to the time taken for public bodies to respond to requests.