Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 16/12/22 – #FOIFriday

This week’s freedom of information stories continue to highlight the pressure public services are under – such as cancelled hospital appointments, council tax debt, and homeless families.

Homeless children

As many as 26,000 children aged under five could be homeless and living in temporary accommodation in England, based on new data gathered by Inside Housing.

Inside Housing sent Freedom of Information requests to local authorities, asking how many children under five were in temporary accommodation in their areas, with 22 returning information (covering around a fifth of England’s temporary accommodation population).

These boroughs had a combined 5,932 children under five in temporary accommodation, with the largest number in Newham in east London, where there were 1,773. The figures showed that 38.6% of families in temporary accommodation in these boroughs had a child aged under five, with 1.16 children under five per household on average. 

If these figures were representative, they would indicate that 22,976 households with children under five were in temporary accommodation at the time of the most recent snapshot figure, with 26,641 children under five in temporary accommodation in total

Cancelled operations

NHS staff shortages were to blame for the cancellation of an estimated 30,000 operations last year in England, making it the most common non-clinical reason given for a procedure not going ahead – accounting for one in five of all operations cancelled.

The figures, acquired by the Labour Party through freedom of information laws, suggest around 158,000 operations were cancelled for non-clinical reasons in 2021/22, i reports.

Council tax arrears

Is the cost of living crisis seeing more people fall behind on their council tax bills? Generally the advice is to pay your council tax before other bills as there can be severe consequences for not paying (councils recommend people get in touch if they are struggling).

As of the start of October, a Freedom of Information request revealed that Wigan Council is owed £73,352,850.80 for 2022/23. They also have £21,966,597.85 due in relation to all other years, according to the Leigh Journal.

Despite these figures looking high, a council spokesman has claimed that this is normal for this time of year and that it does not impact on the projected £16 million deficit for this financial year.

Sexual harassment

Six NHS staff workers are typically reported every week in England for sexually harassing a patient or colleague, the Telegraph has revealed. Since 2017, 16,082 reports of sexual harassment have been made against doctors and nurses, patients, and ancillary staff.

Nearly a fifth of English trusts have recorded a rise in reports of sexual harassment within their services since 2017, while millions have been spent by the NHS on legal claims specific to sexual abuse over the same time period, according to newly-obtained data.

Autism diagnosis

Around 800 children in Wales have been waiting more than two years for autism diagnoses, Nation Cymru reports. The figures were revealed following a Freedom of Information request by the Welsh Conservatives.

In Wales, there are currently 7,258 children on waiting lists to find out if they are on the autism spectrum. Two thirds have waited over six months, 40% percent have waited over a year, 22% have been on waiting lists for over 18 months and 11% have been waiting for a diagnosis for over two years.

Court backlogs

The number of people in Scotland’s prisons awaiting trial has hit “crisis point”, according to the chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC).

A quarter of Scotland’s prison population has not been convicted and some people are waiting up to two years to get to court, the BBC reports.

Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests shows there are seven people behind bars untried who have been there for more than two years.

Overdue library books

As of December 1, 2022, the total sum of fines currently owed to Grantham Library is £1,725.08, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

It is unknown what the biggest library fine is as overdue fines are capped at £8 per item for adults and £2 per item for junior members.

There are currently 877 items overdue at the library, in the Isaac Newton Shopping Centre, the Grantham Journal reports.

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