Two government departments have been fined by a watchdog group for failing to respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) Requests within the stipulated time.
It's only the second time within the past seven years that in seven years that the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has issued an FOI-related enforcement notice.
Department for International Trade (DIT) Department for International Trade (DIT) had the lowest response rate among all departments of government.
The same action was initiated in also the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The ICO is an independent watchdog. Its primary goal is to encourage transparency by public entities and to promote privacy for individuals.
The agency has taken this latest order against DIT and BEIS in response to what it describes as "persistent failures" to respond.
The agency said that the move is part of a renewed method of regulation of it. Freedom of Information Act 2000 obligates the government to take measures against authorities that have consistently failed to perform.
John Edwards, the Information Commissioner, stated: "Accountability and transparency in the public sector are essential to democracy, and it is the responsibility of the ICO to ensure that citizens' right to access information is secured.
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"I advise public authorities to take note and learn lessons from the action we have taken today, as we will be making greater use of our powers under the Act to drive good practice and compliance."
The FOI expert Martin Rosenbaum told the BBC that this was a good decision.
"It is the type of firm, determined and steadfast decision that is desperately needed to correct serious lapses on FOI by government departments.
"It must be made obvious to the officials with the worst record regarding the FOI process that they have limitations to the things they can go along with.
In the event that this new commissioner shows more determination and efficiency in the enforcement of the FOI Act, it will have a major impact on improving the way the system is able to be implemented for the public good," he said.
Department for International Trade
The ICO claimed that DIT was behind in responding to over half the requests between January and March.
The Department's response time decreased in 2021, despite no growth in requests or issues with the Department's resources.
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The ICO claimed that the delay was "simply due to internal process failings, rather than more significant problems".
The Department was informed that it must respond to outstanding requests that are older than 20 days by 35 calendar days from the date of the enforcement notice.
The government should also release an action plan outlining the measures to prevent any further delays.
Failure to adhere to the warning could result in an investigation by the Department guilty of breach of court. It was warned.
A DIT spokesperson stated: "We are fully committed to our transparency obligations. We have responded to more than 500 FOI requests we received this year.
"We continue to evaluate and improve our internal processes and will respond to the ICO in due course."
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
BEIS had instructed the need to enhance its effectiveness following a period when the agency "consistently failed to respond to a significant number of the information access requests received within the statutory time limit".
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BEIS has experienced an increase of 55% in the number of requests since the year 2020. However, the ICO found that the internal procedures of the Department led to many delays in responding to requests and also the increasing volume.
The ICO claimed that, due to mitigations offered by BEIS and its positive interaction in the relationship with BEIS, they were issued with a practice suggestion instead of an enforcement notification.
However, the regulator warned that an enforcement notice might be issued if performance is not improved.
A BEIS spokesperson stated: "We are committed to handling requests in a timely way while managing this alongside tackling the energy crisis and driving economic growth, and we are engaging with the ICO's office on the next steps."
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