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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken action against five public authorities for continued failings to meet their obligations under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

Sussex Police and South Yorkshire Police have been issued with enforcement notices for their FOI failings, with the latter’s FOI request response rate being classed as “unacceptable on any level”. The Department of Education (DfE), Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) have been given practice recommendations setting out improvements they can make to better comply with their legal obligations.

It comes as the Information Commissioner, John Edwards, has written an open letter to public organisations to remind them that transparency is essential and resources must be dedicated to access to information.

"Transparency is fundamental to our democracy. Information delayed is information denied, and people have the legal right to promptly receive information they're entitled to.

“Sussex Police and South Yorkshire Police have let people down with their woeful failure to comply with the law on responding to information requests.

“The Commissioner has been clear that public sector leaders should take transparency seriously. Where organisations fail to do this we will take enforcement action so people’s information rights are upheld.”

- Warren Seddon, ICO Director of Freedom of Information and Transparency

Action we’ve taken

Sussex Police and South Yorkshire Police

Both police forces had large backlogs in dealing with FOI requests: 753 for Sussex Police (including 389 over six months old) and 390 for South Yorkshire. Sussex Police had a compliance rate of just 32% for the most recent quarter. South Yorkshire Police’s compliance rate was under 18% for most of last year, which the enforcement notice describes as “unacceptable on any level.”

The enforcement notices order the forces to clear their backlogs by 31 August 2024 at the latest.

Financial Ombudsman Service

The FOS shows significant inconsistency in FOI request response times. In 2022/23 only 65% of requests were responded to within the statutory timeframe. Things temporarily improved in 2023/24 but the number of requests responded to within the statutory time limits has been continually dropping since August 2023, reaching 23% in November 2023.

Department of Education

The DfE’s compliance rate for responding within the statutory timeframes has been declining since 2019 and hasn’t consistently been over 80% since then.

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

The FCDO has had a consistently poor level of performance in terms of the time limit for complying with information requests. For the quarter July to September 2023 just 33% of requests were answered within the deadline, with 55% answered within the deadline or within the permitted extension.

The FOS, FCDO and DfE have until 31 May 2024 to confirm they have complied with their practice recommendations and how this has been achieved. Failure to comply could result in an enforcement notice. The ICO has now issued nine enforcement notices in the last 12 months.

Notes to editors
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent regulator for data protection and information rights law, upholding information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals.
  • The  ICO has specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA2018), the United Kingdom General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR), the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003 (PECR) and a further five acts and regulations.
  • The ICO can take action to address and change the behaviour of organisations and individuals that collect, use and keep personal information. This includes criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and audit.
  • To report a concern to the ICO telephone call our helpline on 0303 123 1113, or go to