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ICO consults on FoI complaints priorities


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched a consultation on how it prioritises complaints about public sector bodies’ handling of freedom of information (FoI) requests.

It said the exercise is due to run until 19 December and comes in response to a ‘perfect storm’ of an increase in the number of FoI cases coinciding with a squeeze on public sector funds. Under the present system cases are taking a long time to complete, which undermines the cause of open government.

This has prompted it to look at ways to improve its FoI casework services with the aim of completing 90% of cases within six months.

The main proposal is to prioritise complaints where there is a clear public interest in the information that has been asked for. Public interest covers a wide range of values and principles relating to the public good, or what is in the best interests of society.

New criteria

The consultation sets out new criteria for prioritisation, such as where there is a high public interest in the information collected, are vulnerable groups or people affected, and would prioritisation provide operational benefits or support those who are regulated.

Warren Seddon, director of FoI and transparency at ICO, said: “This is about promoting openness, transparency and accountability in line with ICO25, our new corporate strategy. Expediting cases where there is a clear potential public interest means people will get quicker access to information when they are entitled to it or a clear explanation when they are not.

“With an increased demand for our FOI services in recent years, coupled with limited funding, we need to make better choices about how we allocate our resources to those issues that will have the highest impact."

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