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Information Commissioner’s Office still wrestling with Covid-19 related delays

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said the number of active cases it is handling involving Freedom of Information (FOI) complaints is still up by around 80% compared to its pre-pandemic case rate.

The ICO’s Director of Freedom of Information and Transparency, Warren Seddon, explained in an update that the pandemic had exacerbated issues which meant the ICO’s performance is “not where it needs to be to aid transparency and accountability within the public sector”.

Mr Seddon said that tackling the backlog was one of John Edwards’ highest priorities in his first year as Information Commissioner.

In 2014-15, the office received 4,976 FOI complaints. By 2019-20, this had risen to 6,367 cases – a more than 20% increase.

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“Despite this situation, we worked hard to increase our efficiency and managed to maintain a live caseload each year of around 1,250 cases,” Mr Seddon said.

“The impact of the pandemic means that we currently have around 2,250 FOI complaints with our office. This represents an increase of just over 1,000 cases compared to where we were before Covid took hold.”

Mr Seddon said that while the ICO’s performance has now recovered to pre-pandemic levels, it has not been able to reduce the queue that built up during the pandemic.

Additional Government funding has been provided to the ICO through its three-year Spending Review settlement to recruit eight new caseworkers to work on its FOI complaints for just over a year initially. The new employees will represent an increase of around 10% in the size of the team.

The ICO said it is also using the additional resource to recruit a new team that will focus on enhancing the support it offers to help public authorities resolve requests before they reach the ICO.

“This team will be responsible for developing new and improved toolkits, guidance, and training to help improve performance and encourage greater publication of information proactively wherever possible,” Mr Seddon noted.

Adam Carey

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