The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued an enforcement notice to the London Borough of Lewisham Council for failing to respond to hundreds of overdue requests made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000.
The Council revealed the true extent of its poor performance on information access requests to the ICO, which was much worse than statistics it recently published online.
At the end of 2022, the Council had a total number of 338 overdue requests for information, 221 of which were over 12 months old. The oldest unanswered request was submitted over two years ago on 3 December 2020.
While the Council was focusing on new requests to improve its compliance with the statutory time limit of 20 working days for a response, this was at the expense of tackling its backlog of older requests. Following enquiries by the ICO, it became clear that the Council had no concrete plans to address this issue.
The enforcement notice requires the Council to respond to all outstanding requests over 20 working days old, no later than six months from the date of the notice. It is also required to devise and publish an action plan to mitigate any future delays to FOI requests, within 35 days from the date of the notice.
“By failing to respond to these requests, Lewisham Council is keeping hundreds of people in the dark about information they have a right to ask for. People need to have confidence in the decisions being made by their local authority and this Council’s failure to comply with the law erodes trust in democracy and open government.
“This is our second Freedom of Information enforcement notice in recent months, and I hope it is clear that we will be taking action when public authorities fail to be transparent and accountable.”
- Warren Seddon, Director of FOI and Transparency at the ICO
The action comes under the ICO’s renewed approach to regulating the FOIA where public authorities are clearly not complying with the law. The approach is set out in the ICO’s new FOI and Transparency Regulatory Manual and three-year strategic plan, ICO25.
An enforcement notice is issued under s52 of FOIA, and requires a public authority to take specific steps to comply with part I of the Act. It is a formal notice issued to address system-wide or repeated breaches. Failure to comply with the enforcement notice may lead to the Council being found in contempt of court.