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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.

How the ICO uses its powers to enhance transparency and support public authorities – 23 July 2021

Group Manager Laura Tomkinson discusses how the FOI and Transparency Directorate is using practice recommendations to enhance transparency and accountability of information rights practices.

Access to information rights remain as important as ever. They support people’s understanding of how our public services are functioning and shine a light on what is working well and what isn’t.

When things do go wrong, we have a range of powers which help us to ensure public bodies comply with their legal obligations. Our decision notices respond to people’s complaints about the handling of individual requests and whether information should be released. Our information notices ensure we secure the information we need to conclude our cases.

Another of our important powers is the ability to issue practice recommendations, setting out broader improvements a public authority should make. We issue these where we have concerns that the codes of practice set by the government are not being adhered to. A recent example of our use of these powers is the practice recommendation we served on Sussex Police.

We saw an emerging pattern of poor compliance from the force resulting in more people seeking our help to get responses to their information requests. This led to us working with the force to support improvements in its practices and reduce the number of complaints brought to us.

Despite this the situation did not improve, and further issues came to light. These included multiple failures to comply with our formal decision notices and information notices in time, as well as poor quality responses to requesters and to our case officers’ investigations.

As a result of this, we concluded Sussex police practices were not good enough and issued a practice recommendation setting out how they should address this. The force must now put a framework in place to:

  • improve its information rights practices;
  • increase transparency; and
  • improve accountability for its information rights handling.

We continue to work with the force to ensure recommendations are put into practice to improve the experiences of people who seek public information from them.

We will also be exploring where practice recommendations will be useful in the future to support public authorities to maintain and improve their request handling capability.

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