Image: Flickr/olcoge
Image: Flickr/olcoge

Once again the Home Office has failed to respond to the required amount FOI requests on time. 

For the third quarter in 2013 the department has missed the 85% target set by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

New figures show only 71.9% of requests the Home Office received between July and September were answered within 20 working days – this includes requests they were granted extensions.

Once you remove the ‘permitted’ extensions, which are decided by the authority itself, the performance falls to 59.8%.

The loophole

As Jon Baines (@Bainesy1969) points out in his, closely watched, post these different classifications of performance act as a loophole to avoid the authorities being monitored by the regulator:

However, what does “with a permitted extension” mean? It means, that in complex cases where a public authority needs more time to consider whether the public interest favours disclosure, it can disapply the twenty-working-day deadline and extend its time for compliance indefinitely, subject to reasonableness (although the ICO says it should be no more than an extra 20 days, he cannot enforce that).

Whole of government

Across the 21 departments of state there were 9,145 requests made during the three months. Of these, 7,864 met the 20 day deadline for responses making the entire government responding to 86% within the timescale given by the Act.

Once requests which have been permitted to miss the 20 day deadline are included the overall performance increases to 90.9%.

Here are the most performance figures for central government for Q3 2013. The graph shows both requests that have been responded to within 20 days and also those that have been responded to with the ‘permitted extensions’.

There’s absolutely no major differences. 

I am a journalist and author. I am a journalist at the UK edition of WIRED magazine. In 2015, my first book Freedom of Information: A Practical Guide for UK Journalists, was published. My second book Reed Hastings: Building Netflix, was published in March 2020. I created FOI Directory in 2012 and have maintained it in my spare time ever since.