The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued an enforcement notice to Lewisham Council for failing to respond to hundreds of overdue requests made under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
It said 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, Lewisham had a total 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. Following enquiries by the ICO it became clear there were no concrete plans to address this issue.
The enforcement notice requires Lewisham 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.
Keeping people in the dark
Warren Seddon, director of FoI and transparency at the ICO, said: “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 FoI 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.”