ICO takes action against Lewisham council for failing to respond to hundreds of Freedom of Information requests

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued an enforcement notice to Lewisham council for failing to respond to hundreds of overdue Freedom of Information requests.

The council has revealed the true extent of its poor performance on information access requests to the ICO.

At the end of 2022, the council had a total number of 338 overdue requests for information, 221 of which were more than 12 months old. 

The oldest unanswered request was submitted more than two years ago, on December 3, 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 of older requests. 

Following enquiries by the ICO, it became clear that the council had no concrete plans to address this issue.  

The enforcement notice requires the council to respond to all outstanding requests more than 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.  

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.”

The action taken comes under the ICO’s renewed approach to regulating the Freedom of Information Act of 2000, where public authorities are not complying with the law.

Failure to comply with the enforcement notice may lead to the council being found in contempt of court. 

A spokesperson from Lewisham council said: “We wholly accept the enforcement notice from the Information Commissioner’s Office and recognise our current performance in responding to freedom of information requests is not acceptable. 

“We are already taking steps to address this, including bringing in extra staff to focus on resolving older cases.

“We are fully cooperating with the ICO and will be publishing our improvement plan in due course.” 

Pictured Top: Lewisham council’s headquaters in Catford (Picture: Google Street View)

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