Information Commissioner's Office
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ICO's blog on its information rights work

Colleagues from the ICO’s FOI Directorate share their experiences and involvement in raising awareness of our regulation of access to information legislation.

FOI and coronavirus – preparing for recovery (17 July 2020)

As the UK’s response to COVID-19 continues to evolve towards recovery we have made changes to our adapted regulatory approach.

We have remained pragmatic and empathetic to the pressures public authorities are facing, and our focus continues to be one of supporting and offering advice on how to respond to the challenges the pandemic brings.

Although we have maintained this approach, we now also want to see public authorities putting clear plans in place to get back on track with their freedom of information work.

To help with this we have launched an FOI toolkit designed to help public authorities self-assess performance in responding to FOI requests. The toolkit can be completed in stages or in full, and generates a bespoke report which helps to identify areas for improvement and where action needs to be taken.

We hope the toolkit will become a staple part of FOI practitioners’ continual learning and that it will promote good practice.

We would also like to thank the Scottish Information Commissioner and his team for their assistance during the toolkit’s development stage.

How we will regulate freedom of information during coronavirus

As the coronavirus crisis began to take hold, we blogged about the unprecedented challenges facing public authorities and how redirecting resources and switching priorities would impact on their compliance with freedom of information.

Now we have more detail and further advice. The ICO has published a document setting out our regulatory approach during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This includes deciding how we exercise our enforcement powers, how we deliver technical advice and guidance to organisations, and how we support the public, dealing with their complaints and queries.

We will continue to support transparency in public decision making but our regulation of freedom of information must be pragmatic and empathetic during the pandemic.

Our approach is also aligned with the International Conference of Information Commissioners’ vision, which supports a flexible approach that takes into account the compelling public interest in the pandemic, while safeguarding the values of the right to access information.

FOI and the coronavirus: a measured approach

The ICO recognises the unprecedented challenges all are facing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In particular we understand that resources, whether they are finances or people, may be diverted away from usual compliance or information rights work. Whilst we can’t extend statutory timescales, we will not be penalising public authorities for prioritising other areas or adapting their usual approach during this extraordinary period.

To further support our information rights colleagues, we will tell people through our own communications channels that they may experience understandable delays when making information rights requests during the pandemic.

We are a reasonable and pragmatic regulator, one that does not operate in isolation from matters of serious public concern. Regarding compliance with information rights work when assessing a complaint brought to us during this period, we will take into account the compelling public interest in the current health emergency.

We are here to help you, information is available on our website or via our helpline on 0303 123 1113.

Click here for the full press release


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