Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 9/9/22 – #FOIFriday

In FOI related news this week, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has taken enforcement action for the first time in seven years (which is hopefully a good sign of a more robust approach).

The ICO has issued an enforcement notice to the Department for International Trade (DIT) and a practice recommendation to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), for persistent failures to respond to information access requests within the statutory time limit.

John Edwards, UK Information Commissioner said: “For the first time in seven years, the ICO has issued a Freedom of Information enforcement notice, which clearly marks the start of our new approach to regulating the Act.”

“Accountability and transparency in the work of public authorities is fundamental to democracy and it is the ICO’s role to ensure that people’s right to access information is protected.

“I advise public authorities to take note and learn lessons from the action we have taken today, as we will be making greater use of our powers under the Act to drive good practice and compliance.”

On the subject of accountability and transparency, something may not be working if your own councillors are a frequent source of requests. A row broke out at a Highland Council committee meeting when one councillor questioned poor performance on answering requests in the 20 day limit, and the deputy chief executive accepted the council could do better and said recent years have brought an “exponential increase” in FOIs.

Other councillors blamed local politicians, but especially councillors, sending in requests for information they could get from asking officers (should be noted here that councils could avoid this by publishing more info, and there is an option to deal with requests in the normal course of business if they just need a quick response).

The Press and Journal reports:

Mr Bremner said: “The last thing I should see is a member of Highland Council submitting FOI requests when they have the power within their own hands to stop writing these things and actually go and knock on the door of the officer.”

Convener Bill Lobban also called members’ FOI submissions a “waste of time”. He urged councillors to build relationships with officers to get the answers they need.

Mr Stewart called their comments “nonsense”, prompting further angry words with Mr Lobban.

The chairman was forced to intervene, bringing the discussion to a hasty close.

Housing help

The number of people needing help to pay rent has soared by a third in Birmingham.

Applications for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) in Birmingham jumped 34% from 8,038 in 2020/21 to 10,822 in 2021/22, BirminghamWorld found through a Freedom of Information request.

Cannabis farms

The Harrogate district is still the place in North Yorkshire with the highest number of cannabis farms, data from North Yorkshire Police has revealed.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request showed that between 2016 and 2021, nine major farms with more than 25 plants were discovered in the Harrogate district. That was almost double the amount found in the Selby district, which was the next highest with five, the Stray Ferret reports.

Online abuse

West Midlands Police received 58 reports of football-related online racial abuse during the 2020/21 season, compared to just one in 2019/20.

BirminghamLive said the combination of not being able to attend games, more matches being screened on television and topical issues which have been in the national spotlight, such as Black Lives Matter protests and players taking the knee at games to highlight racial and social injustices, may have played a part.

The end of that season also saw England reach the final of the delayed Euro 2020, when players Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were the subject of sickening abuse online after missing penalties. There were various other reports of players being targeted on Twitter and Instagram.

School place fraud

As children head back to school, and applications for next year’s places open, Hampshire County Council is warning parents and guardians not to give false information, or they risk losing a school place.

Figures obtained by the Gazette through a Freedom of Information request show that the number of parents caught lying on application forms for school places is very low.

Since September 2019, just five school places for infant, junior and primary schools were withdrawn after parents were caught lying, and for secondary school places none were withdrawn. All five school places were withdrawn because a false address was provided on the application form.

School dinners

A back to school take on using FOIs to get copies of food hygiene reports.

A national catering firm was given a zero-star food hygiene rating after ‘significant quantities’ of mice droppings were found at a school. Chartwells was told to make ‘urgent improvement’ after the rodent activity was discovered at Barclay Primary School in Leyton, east London.

An environment health officer (EHO) found that the catering giant had ‘failed to identify, record and address mouse activity in the kitchen’, the Metro reports.


The best-preserved medieval monastery in Devon and Cornwall, Torre Abbey, has spent £20,000 on repairs due to being hit by golf balls from a neighbouring nine-hole golf course. A Freedom of Information request to Torquay Council has revealed that the historic building and art gallery has been hit by golf balls 31 times since 2017, costing the local authority about £20,000 in repairs, according to The Times.

The building, founded in 1196 as a monastery for Premonstratensian canons, is now a grade I listed wedding venue. In 2017 the council spent £12,500 to repair the barn’s roof due to a “significant number of holes created by golf balls hitting it and breaking the slates” from the Torre Abbey Leisure Centre, which has operated in the same location for 80 years.

A spokesman for Torquay council said that since 2017 holes have continued to be created by golf balls with some reports of double holes — two or more holes created close together, forming a large opening in the roof.

He said: “It is believed the double holes have been caused by the layout of the green and the direction of the players’ strokes. The number of holes in the roof is impacting on the ability to hire the Barn due to rain coming through. Torquay council will therefore need to invest in the fixing of this in the near future.”

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