ICO takes action against two central government departments for failing to comply with the FOIA

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) announced today that it has issued an enforcement notice to the Department for International Trade (DIT), and a practice recommendation to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), for persistent failures to respond to FOI requests within the statutory time limit.

Information Commissioner John Edwards said:

“For the first time in seven years, the ICO has issued a Freedom of Information enforcement notice, which clearly marks the start of our new approach to regulating the Act.”

“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.”

From January to March 2022 DIT issued late responses in over 50% of requests, which demonstrates the worst response figures for the whole of central government.

The Department is now required to respond to any outstanding requests older than 20 working days within 35 calendar days of the enforcement notice. It is also required to devise and publish an action plan formalising measures to mitigate any future delays. Failure to comply with the notice could lead to the DIT being found in contempt of court, the ICO says.

BEIS consistently failed to respond, within the statutory time limit, to a significant number of the FOI requests received. However, as BEIS actively engaged in discussions with the ICO and highlighted mitigations, the regulator took this positive engagement into account. As a result, the ICO has issued BEIS with a practice recommendation rather than an enforcement notice.