Freedom of Information in the news – week ending 10/6/22 – #FOIFriday

I’m aware it’s not Friday today, so this is another slightly delayed FOI Friday. But it’s another week with some good repeatable Freedom of Information ideas, including thinking about the different types of information public bodies might hold (that might make an interesting story for you).

The rising cost of living is having a huge impact and those impacts may be highlighted through FOI – is the number of people (particularly the most vulnerable) struggling to keep up with payments on the things they need rising?

School lunch debt

More than 20 councils across Scotland have called in sheriff officers (similar to getting a county court judgement in England and Wales, allowing bailiffs to pursue the debt) to retrieve lunch debts accrued by hungry school pupils for as little as £10, STV reports.

A study found an estimated £1,032,500 was owed to local authorities across the country by parents and children – “One local authority was found to actively “stigmatise” pupils requesting vouchers for meals in order to bridge the gap between payments by – making them verbally ask the school office in order to “encourage them to have funds on their account”.”

Social care debt

Of the 87,421 adult social care users known to have missed at least one payment, 60,248 have been issued with a reminder or a warning notice – that equates to a quarter of all adult social care users who are paying for their care, which includes those who are elderly or have a disability, across the 78 English councils that responded to openDemocracy’s Freedom of Information request.

Twenty of the councils that responded to the FOI request referred a total of 632 current adult care users to debt collection agencies, and a further 59 councils have launched court proceedings to recover care debt on 830 occasions over the past three years (though some of those proceeding may have been against user’s estates).

School taxis

Liverpool Council is spending £106,000 a week on taxis to take children to school, or more than £5.5m a year. according to the Liverpool Echo. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed provisions are made through taxi companies for around 1,000 children to get to school across the city.

The council provides subsidised transport for children up to age 16 who may be entitled to depending on the distance from home to school and if they meet certain eligibility criteria – such as those on low income who live more than walking distance from a suitable school.

Child cruelty

There were more than 26,000 offences recorded where a child suffered neglect or cruelty in the year to the end of March 2022, up from just over 21,000 the year before, the BBC reports. This amounts to an average of 72 cases of child neglect or cruelty each day, according to analysis by the NSPCC.

Police compensation claims

According to a Freedom of Information response, Northamptonshire Police recorded 47 claims for incidents ranging from breaches of human rights and unlawful arrest to loss of property, according to the Northampton Chronicle. Payments totalled £64,787.50 at an average of just over £1,350 each.

Claims included two alleged violations of European Court of Human Rights legislation, six unlawful arrests and one unlawful arrest and assault. Others involved three breaches of data protection regulations, one failure to investigate and one trespass.

Neighbour wars

“Raging Edinburgh locals are reporting disputes with neighbours at the rate of six-a-day, shock new figures obtained by Edinburgh Live reveal.”

The figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws show a total of 2,204 antisocial behaviour complaints involving neighbours in 2021. Among the most common causes of neighbour disputes are noise, parking, property boundaries and overgrown greens complaints.

Top of the list of areas with the most disputes was the EH4 postcode, which reaches from Stockbridge to Cramond and Ravelston to Muirhouse.

Police Scotland records neighbour disputes as a subcategory of anti-social behaviour that usually refers to any disagreements between the neighbours that cause stress and tension. This is an example of the interesting extra detail that can potentially be found in subcategories or tags added to more general (and often published) data.

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