Image credit: Chris Sampson / Creative Commons / Flickr

London’s Metropolitan Police just can’t respond to enough Freedom of Information requests on time.

The police force has been named by the regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office, as being monitored for not replying to the questions it’s asked quickly enough. Again.

ICO officials require public authorities to try and answer 85% of FOI requests they receive within the 20 working day period – or use a lawful method to extend the time they have.

The scrutiny, which lasts three months, involves the force filling in paper work about the number of requests it receives and how it is progressing with them.

To anyone who has made an FOI request to the UK’s biggest force, this will not come as a surprise.

The police force has been ‘monitored’ by the ICO for more than three years now. The first mention of the monitoring was in 2013, on April Fools Day, and almost every three months the ICO has reiterated that not enough improvements have been made.

This website has written about the police force’s poor responses and failure to escape the ICO’s attention multiple times: in 2014, and twice three times in 2015.

Whatever the two bodies have been doing to improve the backlog – this website also has a cache of emails between the two revealing the full scale of the issues – hasn’t worked.

Announcing the Met would be subject to more monitoring the ICO said: “The Metropolitan Police Service will continue to be looked at.

“They have implemented initiatives and measures to improve performance, but a growing volume of requests means that work hasn’t had enough of an impact on compliance with the law. We will continue to monitor them to ensure the necessary improvements are achieved.”

The ICO has a number of options it could use to legally force the police force to respond to requests faster, yet it is reluctant to use these.

Enforcement notices, which, in theory, can preempt contempt of court proceedings, could be used to tell the Met to get its act together and respond to the queries its receiving.

The ICO has only used its enforcement powers for FOI four times in the 11 years since the Act came into force.

Maybe it is time for a fifth.

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.