It is a statutory duty to comply with the 20-working-day response time to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). It is breach of the Code of Practice issued by the Secretary of State to fail to respond promptly to a request for internal review of a FOIA refusal (and the IC recommends 20 working days for this as well). It is a statutory duty, breach of which is potentially a criminal offence, to fail to comply with an Information Notice or a Decision Notice issued by the Information Commissioner (IC).
With all this in mind, and with acknowledgement that this is copied in total from an IC Decision Notice FS50427906, read the following comments by the IC, on how the Cabinet Office (who, er, have poor FOI history) handled a specific request, and weep.
73. At every stage during the handling of these requests and the investigation of this case, the Cabinet Office has been responsible for causing severe delays. As noted above, the complainant did not receive a substantive response to his requests until more than a year had passed following his first request, and over eight months following the second.
74. These responses were only forthcoming after the Cabinet Office was ordered to provide these in the earlier decision notice issued by the Commissioner. Even then, the Cabinet Office did not respond within the time limit specified in the notice. The internal review was also late and again was only provided following the intervention of the ICO.
75. During the Commissioner’s investigation the responses provided to his office were frequently late and incomplete. This necessitated the issuing of an information notice, which the Cabinet Office also failed to comply with within the specified time.
76. Given this background, the Commissioner trusts that the Cabinet Office will view the steps required in this notice as providing an opportunity to demonstrate to the complainant its commitment to its obligations under the FOIA and to providing a better service than the complainant has received thus far.
77. A record of the various issues that have arisen in relation to these requests and during this investigation has been made by the ICO. Issues relating to responding to requests in accordance with the FOIA and about responding promptly to correspondence in section 50 investigations have been raised with the Cabinet Office by the ICO in the past. The Commissioner is concerned that, despite this, issues of such severity have arisen in relation to the requests in this case. It is essential that the Cabinet Office ensures that there is no repetition of these issues in relation to future requests.