Hackney Council under investigation after repeatedly ignoring FOI requests

Hackney Town Hall

Hackney Town Hall - Credit: Archant

Hackney Council has come under fire for not being transparent, after repeatedly ignoring Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides individuals or organisations with the right to request official information held by a public authority, and a public authority is required by law to respond to an FOI request within 20 working days.

But the council, along with the Cabinet Office and the Crown Prosecution Service, is going to be monitored for the next three months after a “significant” number of complaints about the timeliness of their FOI responses were made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the body which upholds information rights in the public interest.

Christopher Graham. the Information Commissioner, said: “Responding to FOI requests within the statutory time limit of 20 working days is basic to delivering transparent and open government.

“While extensions may sometimes be justifiable for particularly complex requests, these three authorities have been selected for monitoring after serious shortcomings were identified in the time each of them has been taking to respond to FOI requests.”

Lower Clapton resident Paul Charman has submitted six FOI requests to the council in the past year - none of which received responses in the required time limit.

“It’s about time they got investigated,” he said.

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“It’s absolutely outrageous to ignore FOI requests, it makes it extremely hard to get information, sometimes they will wait months before replying but it’s important for democracy that these things are transparent,” he added.

“The laws are there so that public authorities can’t hide embarrassing information, if it wasn’t for the FOIA they wouldn’t tell you anything.

Getting information reasonably quickly is important because otherwise they can delay for a year or as long as they want until the issue has blown over.”

If the council fails to show signs of improvement by March 31 the ICO could take enforcement action.

In a statement Ian Williams, Hackney Council’s director of finance and resources, said he was aware of delays by the council in responding to FOI requests, and a review of the service had been launched last November.

“New measures have since been put in place which will enable us to process requests in a more timely manner,” he said.

“We trust the ICO will note this improvement during the monitoring period.”