Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 1/4/22 – #FOIFriday

This week’s Freedom of Information requests include classics like the number of parking fines handed out, but also show some of the problems with FOI, where not getting back information can be the story, or perhaps a jumping off point for more research.

Quite a lot of the FOI requests have been made by companies and/or their PR people. More accurately, quite a lot of the FOI requests have been sort of made by companies and/or their PR people – it’s striking how many are willing to put out a press release based on only around a quarter of the public bodies responding (which is probably a depressing indicator of the proportion of public bodies that respond in the 20 working days and don’t refuse the request). What this usually means is some good ideas that could be done better.

Parking fines

The most (and in this case also the least) ticketed roads in an is an FOI request that has a good chance of success – both in terms of getting the information (councils in England were supposed to be publishing the information as open data, and some do), and it being a topic of interest to readers for the roads they think are over or under patrolled.

Figures from Cardiff Council show that more than 52,000 fines were issued in the capital in 2021, with the council making more than £1.6 million from giving out tickets, according to Wales Online.

While 52,074 parking fines were issued in total, 5,649 are still yet to be paid, while a further 5,129 have been successfully appealed. The worst street for fines saw more than 1,000 issued, while only one lucky street had no tickets issued in the space of a year. The figures showed 12 of the 20 worst offending streets were all in the same area of Cardiff.

Disabled parking

A variation on the above (or if you ask for detailed fine level data when getting your parking ticket information, a possible follow-up to your main article) is the number of people fined for parking in disabled spaces without a blue badge.

A total of £447,242 was raised from the 15,884 fines slapped on drivers by Bradford Council between April 2018 and March 14 this year, the Telegraph and Argus reports.

The number of fines, for both on and off-street parking violations, in the 2018/19 financial year was 4,543; in 2019/20 it increased to 4,915; in 2020/21 (during the early stages of the pandemic and lockdowns) it fell to 2,677; while the figure so far in 2021/22 is 3,749.

Student teacher relationships

This article in Epigram contrasts the lack of information held (and then released through Freedom of Information) on relationships between students and tutors, with case studies of students who had been in such relationships.

According to the University’s safeguarding policy, staff are required to disclose any intimate relationship they have with a student, whether in person or online, to their academic school, with disciplinary action for failing to report, and for predatory behaviour. Students are also encouraged to disclose relationships.

However, according to FOI data , no disciplinary action has been taken against a staff member, in relation to a student-staff relationship, since the policy was put in place three years ago.

Drink and drug driving

According to the data reported in the Lancashire Telegraph, 2,086 offences relating to driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol were reported to police last year.

Of those offences, 1,475 relate to drink, while 611 offences relate to drink/drugs (although with this data it is possible the same person has been arrested more than once). There were 149 collisions that resulted in injury last year with a contributory factor of ‘impaired by excess alcohol’ – including two fatalities – one of which was a driver and one pedestrian.  

TV Income

The benefits of ‘Callywood’ to the people of Calderdale are sadly unquantified in this story in the Halifax Courier. While the council can say it has received some income from road closures relating to productions such as Gentleman Jack, the BBC drama based on Anne Lister of Halifax’s Shibden Hall, crime drama Happy Valley, The Gallows Pole, based on Ben Myers’ novel inspired by the Cragg Coiners, and Marvel’s filming of its mini-series Secret Invasion, it can’t say exactly how much.

However, as filming in an area is likely to involve some paperwork and public bodies, this is an area where FOI could be used to find out some background details of TV and film production in a local area (I think FOI may have once turned up some info about the logistics of putting fake acid tanks in Cardiff Castle for an episode of Doctor Who).

Pet care bills

Councils spent more than £1million pounds in two years looking after pets when their owners were too ill to do so, according to Mail Online – Liverpool City Council alone spent £222,000 in the last two years caring for 73 cats, 53 dogs and 26 pets of other species.

Under the Care Act, local councils are responsible for pets when people are hospitalised, if no friends or family can step in to feed, water and otherwise care for the animals.

Cryptocurrency seized

As both cryptocurrency (and, likely, the use of cryptocurrency by criminals) is something that’s only really become more prominent in recent years, this may be the kind of FOI that starts to yield interesting details in the future.

Following a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, West Yorkshire Police confirmed that they had seized cryptocurrency including Bitcoin, Ethereum and Kusama in the past two years, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Section 84 of the Proceeds of Crime Act (2002) gives a definition as to what is classed as property under the act, which includes “things in action and other intangible or incorporeal property”.

“Cryptocurrencies therefore fall into this definition, giving the powers under the Act to treat Cryptocurrency as property”, the force said.

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