FOI Good Practice: A survey of London local authorities

Key findings

3/4

of London councils didn't respond to 90% of requests on time

Nearly 1/3

of London councils published no FOI statistics

30/34

London councils failed to reveal numbers of answered requests

This report examines the extent to which London councils are following good practice in complying with the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The FOI Act and related Environmental Information Regulations (EIR) have been in force since 2005. They give the public powerful rights to information from public authorities about their decisions, policies and services. Nationally, the rights are used by hundreds of thousands of people a year. Around 60,000 requests are made annually to London councils.

An authority that approaches FOI positively, recognising it as an important right and an opportunity to be open and accountable will respond in an entirely different way to one that is indifferent, badly informed, or worse, actively obstructive. 

This report is based on councils' own FOI policies, guidance, performance reports and statistics, the manner in which they  handled Freedom of Information requests filed by the Campaign for Freedom of Information and a review of relevant Information Commissioner (IC) decisions. 

Indicators of good practice include

  • How well London councils comply with the statutory time limits for answering requests
  • Whether they monitor and seek to improve their own FOI performance
  • Whether they publish their FOI compliance statistics
  • How they fulfil their duty to advise and assist requesters 
  • Whether they publish the information they have disclosed under FOI  
  • The quality of the FOI guidance they produce for their staff
  • Any special procedures they adopt in dealing requests likely to attract publicity

Findings

  • Some London councils deal with virtually all FOI requests within 20 working days, others only manage to answer around 60% within this period - a deeply disappointing level of performance.
  • In the course of the project, the Campaign for FOI had to make eight complaints to the Information Commissioner (IC) about seven London councils which failed to respond to one or more of their requests.
  • Nearly a third of London councils published no FOI statistics of any kind.
  • 30 of 34 London councils failed to reveal the numbers of requests they answered or refused.

Recommendations

  • Authorities should report publicly every quarter on the number of requests not answered within the required time scales, setting out the causes of the delay and the steps being taken to address them.
  • Authorities should link to their published FOI statistics and performance reports from the FOI page of their website.
  • Authorities should publish quarterly statistics on their FOI performance in accordance with the statutory guidance in the July 2018 Freedom of Information code of practice.
  • Authorities should publish their FOI guidance to staff, linking to it from their FOI web page.
  • The IC should reinstate its lapsed 2010 enforcement policy, including the monitoring of underperforming authorities, to ensure that authorities answer at least 90% of requests on time. It should demonstrate a readiness to issue Enforcement Notices where persistent delays continue.
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FOI Good Practice: A survey of London local authorities

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