How to make an FOI request (Part 2)

Further to yesterday’s post, one of my regular readers, Nicholas, asked for statistics to illustrate my point that the vast majority of requests are answered on time and in full. Here’s just a few examples, based both on publicly available sources and on personal experience/knowledge.

The obvious starting point is Central Government. The Ministry of Justice publishes quarterly and annual statistics for them. In 2009, central Government (that’s all Departments of State + their related agencies) received 40,473 requests. Of these, 19% were for information not held and a further 7% required further clarification. Of the remaining 30,124 requests,  all of the information was disclosed in 58% of cases. Only in 23% of cases was the information refused completely. And 82% of requests were answered within 20 working days. (Admittedly, the figure falls to 75% if you look just at Departments of State, but still…)

So let’s look outside central government, which is more difficult because there are few published figures for the other parts of the public sector. So I’ll give you some examples of individual organisations.

One County Council received 1449 requests in 2009. If you exclude information not held, it refused to provide some or all of the information in only 16% of cases.

A university received 56 requests, of which 54 were answered on time. Only 10 were partially or fully refused.

A busy hospital received approximately 240 requests. Despite requests rising five-fold between 2005 and 2009, and with no extra resources, it still answered FOI requests within 20 working days in approximately 84% of cases. Less than 5% of requests were partially or fully refused.

Another public authority received just under 400 requests in 2008. 85% of these were answered within 20 days. Only 9% were partially or fully refused.

Of course, it’s not good enough when a request is answered later than 20 working days in any situation. There is a legal requirement to respond sooner. And it is frustrating when you don’t get the information you want (believe me, I’ve made requests myself, so I know the feeling). But I think the above demonstrates that when the Media and others criticise public authorities over FOI, they’re actually talking about a minority of requests. The trouble for public authorities (and people like me) is that the Media and campaigners are most likely to ask the most difficult questions (in every sense) and are also most likely to make the most noise when they don’t get what they want!

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  1. foiman says:

    It’s been pointed out to me that JISC publishes figures for the Higher Education sector based on an annual survey. You can see the figures for 2009 at http://www.jiscinfonet.ac.uk/foi-survey/2009/requests . They’re consistent with the general trend discussed in my post.

    The Campaign for FOI have also commented via Twitter that more authorities should publish their statistics. I tend to agree. The Ministry of Justice publishes guidance at http://www.justice.gov.uk/guidance/foi-guidance-local-authorities.htm on this.