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ICO issues toolkit to help public bodies respond to FOI requests in COVID-19 recovery period

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an online toolkit to help public authorities respond to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests as organisations prepare to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The toolkit, which can be found here, can be used to assess compliance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.

The ICO said the online toolkit was designed to help public authorities self-assess their performance in responding to FOI requests. It generates a bespoke report which helps to identify areas for improvement and where action needs to be taken.

The first phase of the toolkit focusses on timeliness, which the ICO said was a fundamental requirement of the FOI Act. It is split into five modules covering: response rates; handling requests; training and awareness; compliance and assurance and governance structure.

Further toolkit developments will see other issues addressed, such as where the cost of compliance exceeds the appropriate limit.

The toolkit, which can be completed in stages or in full, works by asking the user to assess performance against a set of criteria. Each module generates a report showing an overall rating in the area, an action plan and helpful web links to relevant guidance.

Deborah Clark, ICO Group Manager Insight and Compliance, said: “Whilst the ICO remains pragmatic in its regulatory approach, we also now expect organisations to start putting clear plans in place to get back on track with their freedom of information work.

“The FOI toolkit will support public authorities to do just that.”

She added: “This toolkit is a practical way for public authorities to assess where they are now and what they can do to improve as they return to greater capacity.

“We hope it will become a staple part of FOI practitioners’ continual learning and that it will help promote good practice, which will contribute to building trust and confidence with the public.”

Prior to launch, the toolkit was tested with a range of public authorities and received positive feedback and input for improvement. The ICO also received assistance from the Scottish Information Commissioner during the toolkit’s development stage.

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