You are currently viewing Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 24/6/22 – #FOIFriday

Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 24/6/22 – #FOIFriday

The ongoing impact of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis are both likely to be issues where Freedom of Information requests will be able to unearth more detail about the different affects on people.

Services and schemes that support those struggling with rising prices may now be having to help increasing numbers of people. Other services, particularly the NHS, may be seeing a rise in people after a drop during lockdown.

Using FOI to get the parking tickets data for your area is still a popular request – this week’s example covers the fines being faced by badly parked Christmas shoppers.

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Homes for Ukraine

For all the good that’s been done through the scheme – which allows households in this country to sponsor visas for Ukrainian refugees – when it was launched charities also warned of potential issues.

Figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities showed hundreds of Ukrainian families have been left homeless in England after arriving on visas designed to secure them a place to live.

One in six (16%) of councils, which responded to an FOI request by CYP Now, reported at least one or more sponsors listed to have matched with refugees in their areas as posing a safeguarding risk. Overall, at least 36 alerts to potential safeguarding risks were made across the 76 local authorities.

Meanwhile, 29 people on local authority sponsors lists were known by councils to have been flagged on the Police National Computer, which stores and shares criminal records information across the UK, as part of checks by Border Force and the Home Office, the FOI results show.

Mental health

Mental health services across Glasgow are seeing an increase in “severe and complex illness” following drops in numbers getting help during the pandemic, STV reports.

A Freedom of Information request submitted to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) shows the number of patients referred to mental health community teams or admitted to an inpatient ward went from 62,176 in 2019 to 49,324 in 2020. The figure rose to 58,196 in 2021 and sat at 29,087 by the end of April this year. 

NHSGGC says that with fewer people referred to a mental health service during the pandemic, they are now seeing an increase in severity and complexity of illness.

Lack of beds

Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust patients needing urgent support were transferred as far as West Sussex, Darlington and Durham in 2022, the Birmingham Mail reveals. Whether admitted directly, or moved from a local bed, 973 mental health patients were transferred to private hospitals out of area due to the ‘unavailability of NHS beds’, stats revealed. Among those were 60 patients forced to travel 200 miles away for treatment at Priory’s Middleton St. George Hospital in Darlington.

The Government pledged to end the ‘shameful’ practice of out of area transfers by April last year.

Weapons in court

If you’re going to court to face charges of crime, it might not be the best idea to bring evidence of other offences with you…

However, weapons, including 98 knives, alcohol, and drugs are among items being seized by security at Barrow’s court, with more than 1,100 items of contraband have been confiscated by security staff at the town’s magistrates’ court since 2013, according to data obtained by The Mail.

Figures show that defendants and other court visitors are also trying to bring in recording devices, ‘protest materials’ and glass bottles into the building.

Knives over three inches or other illegal blades are confiscated and reported to the police. Drugs as well as any other item that may be considered an offensive weapon are also reported.

Fire starters

The follow-up to the FOI is more interesting than the FOI here – looking at not just how many deliberate fires are set and the age groups of those involve, but what resources fire services have for prevention and who they may be working with.

A Freedom of Information request for statistics from Kent Fire and Rescue (KFRS) – recorded between January 1 and May 11– shows 172 out of 689 deliberately-started fires were in the Medway Towns, KentOnline has revealed. As well as this, between January 2018 and this May, Kent Police identified three cases in which the suspect was below the age of criminal responsibility, which is 10.

KFRS has a dedicated team called Firesetters which aims to help under 18s who have either set fire to something or shown an interest in doing so. Referrals to the service can come from parents, guardians, or professional agencies such as social workers.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) says the youngest person it has had to work with to prevent them from setting fire to something was just three-years-old. Tips for parents include making sure any fire-starting materials are kept out of reach, especially for younger children, and having a conversation with the child if lighters are found in their school bags or bedrooms.

Free school meals

According to figures obtained under the freedom of information act, 6,896 youngsters were eligible for free school meals in Rotherham in 2018. By 2022, that figure had risen to 11,621 – an increase of 68 per cent, the Sheffield Star reports.

Councillor Victoria Cusworth, cabinet member for children and young people at Rotherham Council said: “Increasing food, fuel and energy prices are hitting many local families hard and we hope continuing this scheme will provide some respite and reassurance to people facing the choice between eating and heating.”

Sexual assault on campus

British unis received 1,298 abuse claims – including 178 rapes – in three years, based on Freedom of Information requests responded to be two-thirds of institutions. The remaining third of universities failed to respond to the Freedom of Information request.

In the vast majority of cases, male students are the prime suspects, according to the Sunday People investigation.

Some male students avoided being kicked out after taking part in a ­consent training course or signing a good conduct agreement. And some universities stopped victims from speaking out by making them sign non-disclosure papers.

NHS bullying

Figures obtained by the Scottish Conservatives through Freedom of Information requests show that there has been a near 50 per cent increase in the number of bullying cases in the NHS Scotland over the last five years.

New figures have revealed there were 724 cases recorded over that period – with a steady rise from 126 in 2017/18 to 185 in 2021/22, Edinburgh News reports.

NHS Highland confirmed late last year that it expected to pay £3.4 million in settlements to current and former staff who had complained of bullying.

Paper trail

Everything is digital now…except when it’s not

Reading Council spends £150,000 in postage and £10,000 on paper annually, the Reading Chronicle reports, according to figures revealed as part of a Freedom of Information request by Reading resident Sam Hall, who asked the council about its document signature process.

The council does not currently use any form of electronic signature tool, therefore all documents that require a signature have to be printed and signed instead.

A strategy for how the council aims to reduce its paper based processes is laid out in the ‘Connected Reading: The digital heart of the Thames Valley’ document, which expresses a number of aims to make more council procedures completable online between 2021 and 2024. One of the key aims of the strategy is to move more procedures online, particularly for businesses.

Something smells bad

We’ve done noise complaints, but what about smell complaints?

THE streets in Renfrewshire that have received the highest number of nuisance smell complaints since 2019 have been revealed by the Gazette.

A total of six complaints have been made about the smell of cat urine in Craigielea Road, Renfrew, over a period of 31 months. Stewart Avenue, in Renfrew, was subject to the same number of complaints, the majority of which related to concerns regarding a wood burning stove. There have been five nuisance smell complaints made in Moss Road, Bridge of Weir, regarding bonfire and chimney smoke.

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