The ICO has today announced that it will publish lists every quarter of those authorities that it is monitoring for poor performance in meeting the 20 working day deadline for responding to FOI requests. The 33 organisations in the first list include the Cabinet Office, Transport for London, Birmingham City Council, several London Boroughs and the Met Police.

The criteria for being on the list have also been made available – they are:

  • the ICO has received more than six complaints concerning delay about an authority within a six month period;
  • it appears to the ICO that an authority has exceeded the time for compliance by a significant margin on one occasion or more;
  • (for those authorities which publish data on timeliness) – it appears that less than 85% of requests are receiving a response within the appropriate timescales.

The Campaign for FOI has already pointed out that the Ministry of Justice is not on the list despite falling under the last category, so perhaps the organisations need to fall under all three of the criteria to be listed.

This seems a good idea to me. Although I hope that the ICO (and requesters) exercise some discretion – frankly, I’d rather my local hospital saved lives than answered FOI requests on time 100% of the time – this is probably overdue as a tactic in the ICO’s armoury. Many public sector organisations are very good at meeting the deadline and do so for the vast, vast majority of their requests. However, if there appears to be no sanction against those that don’t, it makes it difficult for FOI Officers to encourage their colleagues and superiors to meet deadlines. This action adds to the armoury of FOI Officers as well at a difficult time.