MoD and Met police face FOI monitor

More than 30 public bodies, including the Home Office, Ministry of Defence and the Metropolitan Police, were today named and shamed on a list of organisations that appear to be flouting freedom of information rules.

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said the organisations appeared to be taking too long to respond to requests made under the Freedom of Information Act and would now be monitored for three months.

The ICO's deputy commissioner Graham Smith said: "This is a perfect opportunity for the authorities named to get their houses in order and demonstrate that they take freedom of information requests seriously."

He went on: "In the five years since the Freedom of Information Act was brought into force, a significant number of the complaints we receive are about organisations that take too long to respond to information requests.

"We will monitor the authorities named today for three months, but may take action during this timeframe if an authority's standard of compliance is revealed to be particularly poor, or if it is unwilling to make the improvements necessary."

The Cabinet Office, the British Transport Police, the Department for Work and Pensions, Transport for London and The Scotland Office were also on the list.

The number of complaints received, published data showing where less than 85% of requests had received a response within appropriate timescales, and occasions where authorities had exceeded time limits by a significant margin were all considered when compiling the list, the ICO said.

On its website, the ICO said: "We intend to target our monitoring activity towards those authorities which repeatedly or seriously fail to respond to freedom of information requests within the appropriate timescales.

"Monitoring may be a precursor to further action if an authority is unable to demonstrate an improvement within a specified timescale."

A Home Office spokeswoman said it took its obligations under the Act seriously.

"We recognise that there are still improvements to be made and will continue to work towards this," she said.

"The Home Office is committed to the principle of openness enshrined within the FoI Act.

"The Home Office also receives one of the highest volumes of FoI requests for all Government departments.

"Inevitably, given the nature of our business, these requests cover a range of complex and serious issues which can take time to resolve."

She went on: "We have provided a range of information not previously available to the public.

"The department has worked hard to ensure that cases are not only handled efficiently, but also result in high-quality responses.

"We continue to take action to improve procedures and performance in dealing with requests for information."

Current indications for July and August show the department "responding to over 85% of requests within the time frames set out by the Act", she added.

It is understood each of the 33 organisations on the list will now be asked to keep a record of everything they do in relation to FoI requests and provide monthly updates to the ICO.

Any complaints made about the organisations during the monitoring period will also be considered by the ICO.