Authorities breaking law over Freedom of Information deadline

COUNCILS across the region are breaking the law by failing to release information they hold under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act within the set time limit, it has emerged.

The authority with the worst record of responding to FOI requests is Hull, which managed to answer just 50 per cent of the 769 requests for information it received in the 2009-10 financial year within the limit of 20 working days.

A spokesman for Hull City Council said: "The level of overdue replies was the result of requests increasing from 555 in 2008/09 to 769 in 2009/10 and experienced information governance staff leaving the team.

"The council now considers the situation to have stabilised and between April 1 2010 and November 30 2010 there were 562 requests received, with only 10 answered outside the 20-day period."

Under the FOI act, which was fully implemented in January 2005, public authorities have to reveal information they hold to members of the public who request that information.

They have 20 working days to respond to requests and only certain pieces of information, such as those related to security matters or court proceedings are exempt. Requests can also be refused if they would cost more than 450 to deal with. However, a large number of councils across Yorkshire are failing to fulfil their obligations under the Act, new figures have revealed.

Between January 1 and November 30 2010, Kirklees Council received 636 FOI requests and responded to 257 of them – 40.4 per cent – late.

A Kirklees Council spokesman said: "The council always endeavours to answer FOI requests quickly, but delays can occur due to the nature or amount of information which needs to be collated in order for us to respond comprehensively.

"Some of these requests can require a lot of information to be collated from a large number of sources. It would be inaccurate to compare return statistics between authorities unless the FOI requests these referred to were the same."

At Sheffield Council, meanwhile, the authority is having such problems responding to FOI requests that a report is being compiled which is expected to go before councillors shortly.

The council's departments are each responsible for answering FOI requests affecting their area of responsibility and the Yorkshire Post has been told that performance varies between them.

Sheffield's performance, however, was average for the region, although it only holds statistics for a limited period. Between August 23 and December 1 this year – the only time frame for which the authority holds figures – the council received 270 FOI requests and 21 of them – 7.8 per cent – were responded to after the time limit.

A spokesman said: "Sheffield City Council receives thousands of requests for information during the course of its routine business, but strives to answer all requests within the time permitted."

Craven District Council responded to 15 per cent of its 84 requests after the time limit and said the authority was "satisfied with the service it provides".

Bradford Council responded to 14 per cent of its 604 requests late and Barnsley Council responded to around 10 per cent of its 496 requests after the 20-day time limit.

A Bradford Council spokesman said: "As part of the council's ongoing commitment to first-class frontline services, the FOI function continually reviews its response time along with the quality of replies."

Ryedale District Council and Harrogate District Council responded to 96 per cent of requests on time and Selby District Council responded to 95 per cent on time.

Calderdale, Wakefield and East Riding councils responded to 98 per cent of requests within the time limit and North Yorkshire County Council responded to 99 per cent of its 826 requests within the 20-day time period. Hambleton District Council has not responded to a FOI request late since the authority began keeping records in April this year.

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