Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 10/2/2023 – #FOIFriday

Persistence can really pay off with FOI. If the first response is a less than convincing refusal (or just complete silence), and you think there’s something there, it may be worth pursuing it further.

And on the other side, as discussed earlier this week, trying to avoid requesters (particularly journalists) is quite a good way to draw attention to yourselves and get them thinking that there’s really something going on.

Stuck on how to get your freedom of information request answered? Here’s some tips on dealing with some common exemptions.

Inappropriate behaviour

A security guard was sacked after taking ‘inappropriate’ pictures of a hospital patient with severe dementia.

A review into incidents involving security guards working with people with severe dementia was conducted by the Morecambe Bay hospitals trust. The specific nature of the incidents only came to light after a freedom of information battle fought by the Mail – a full unredacted version of the review was only obtained following an appeal to the hospital trust by this newspaper. 

Getting out of parking tickets

A 16-month Liverpool ECHO investigation has revealed the names of 14 politicians who together had a total of 51 Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) for parking – rescinded by council officers over a five-year period without using formal processes.

The ECHO began investigating claims of an alleged “back door route” for councillors to get out of paying parking tickets in October 2021. Following a complaint made by the city’s opposition leader Cllr Richard Kemp, we submitted Freedom of Information requests asking for all the names of any elected members who had seen tickets rescinded between April 1 2015 and December 31 2020, the dates and locations involved and any reasons given for why the fines were thrown out.

Number of parking tickets issued

Parking tickets are a classic topic for a freedom of information request – how many, where, how much has been collected in fines…

New figures have revealed that Wirral Council handed out an equivalent of 41 parking tickets a day in the first half of 2022, the Wirral Globe reports.

The figures, obtained by Churchill Motor Insurance, through Freedom of Information requests, show 7,389 penalty charge notices were handed out by Wirral Council in the six months to June 2022 – equivalent to 41 each day. This was a fall from 45 per day across the whole of 2021 – although seasonal variations and coronavirus lockdowns may have contributed.

Meanwhile, a street in Hereford has been revealed to be the greatest earner of parking fines for council coffers, with nearly four fines issued every day, the Hereford Times reports.

In the financial year to last April, 1,341 penalty charge notices (PCNs, or parking tickets) were issued in Union Street in the city’s conservation area. Equivalent to 3.74 fines for each day during the year, these generated income £47,404 for Herefordshire Council, an average of £35.35 per ticket.

Travel safety incidents

If you have a local public transport company that is covered by FOI (not all are, only those in public ownership like TfL), asking for reports of health and safety incidents on the network they manage.

A Tube driver fell asleep on the Metropolitan Line, prompting emergency brakes to operate as it over-run the platform by 50 metres, LBC reports. An incident report released under the Freedom of Information Act shows the driver fell asleep in the driver’s cab between Ruislip and Ickenham in West London around 12.30 pm on March 12.

The emergency brakes system stopped the tube 50 metres past the platform at Ickenham station, the report said.


Does your local council run a pest control service? How busy is it?

The city council runs a weekday pest control service for Leicester residents and there is currently no charge for people who report a rat problem. Calls to deal with rats are split into two categories: those inside the home and those outside and the council aims to respond to the former within 48 hours where possible and 15 working days for rats outside the home.

The LeicestershireLive FOI request reveals that the council spent a total of £165,970 in 2022 on dealing with rat problems and some of the worst effected areas were in Abbey (including Mowmacre), Belgrave, Evington and Rushey Mead. These costs – including £10,000 in Abbey ward alone – are based on average visits, the 2019 hourly charge and added costs such as traps and poisons.

Missing sex offenders

Half of all missing registered sex offenders in Scotland are believed to have travelled abroad, according to police statistics.

In a recently published Freedom of Information (FOI) request, Police Scotland confirmed that there are currently 30 missing people who are registered as sex offenders (RSOs) in the country, according to GlasgowLive. Of these, 15 are believed to be within the UK while 15 are believed to have travelled abroad.

The cost of dying

Since January 1, 2018, South Kesteven District Council has received 93 enquiries about potential funerals and has arranged 27, a Freedom of Information request has found. The highest total in one year was eight, arranged in 2022, and the most expensive cost £4,006 in 2021, the Rutland and Stamford Mercury reports.

A public health funeral, also known as a ‘pauper’s funeral’, are services arranged by the local authority when someone has died and they have no next of kin. In 2018, South Kesteven District Council arranged three funerals, four in 2019, and six in 2020 and 2021.

SEN funding fights

Parents of special education needs (SEN) and disabled children have accused West Northamptonshire Council of “absolutely and very frequently” failing their kids. The council has been found to have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds fighting the families of special needs children in court.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Northants Live found West Northants Council (WNC) spent £274,935 on legal fees in 2022 in defending decisions to refuse SEN children the funding and certification they need for proper care and education. However, the council has so far only won three per cent of appeals raised by parents against their decision to deny Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) since 2021.

Calls unanswered

More than 30,000 calls to Warwickshire Police on 101 were left unanswered, a Freedom of Information Act request has revealed. The figures for the force show how many 101 calls did not get answered between May 6, 2021, and October 6, 2022.

The force said that during this time period 30,772 non-emergency calls were not answered by operators. CoventryLive has previously reported frustration in regards to 101 calls, with one Nuneaton resident saying he was left on hold for two hours before being cut off.

In a statement, Kim Perkin, senior public contact manager, explained that the force receives more than 200,000 calls to 101 from residents every year.

No school to go to

Hundreds of Leicestershire children were left without school places five months after the end of the summer holidays because they do not have one to go to, Leicestershire Live reports.

Some 366 children across primary and secondary were listed as missing education at the start of this year and a further seven were down as being home-schooled because they do not have a place, data obtained through a Freedom of Information request revealed – a number higher than the entire roll at some county schools.

Ambulance worker stress

Data obtained under freedom of information laws shows that at the North East Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (NEAS), 22,868 working hours were lost in 2022 due to 200 staff absences for anxiety, stress, depression, or other psychiatric illnesses.

In 2018, only 7,441 hours were lost through a total of 64 absences, meaning the number of hours lost has more than tripled in five years, according to the Northumberland Gazette.

Course refund

Of the 109 universities that responded to freedom of information requests by The Times, 64 said they had given no refunds or compensation over teaching quality during Covid-19. Many universities have a blanket policy not to hand over money, while others set up schemes offering compensation in specific circumstances.

The refunds that were paid, totalling £1.5 million, were shared among 1,300 students.

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