Thursday, 15 January 2009

Freedom of Information Requests

I've recently submitted a couple of Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests to Nottingham City Council. One was about Discretionary Housing Payment (you can see the resulting post immediately below) and the other was about the decision making process of a change in management of a particular service. Neither have exactly gone to plan.

I thought that the DHP one would be pretty simple and they did give me most of the information that I requested and you can see it in my table in the article. However, they refused to give me the total number of applications for DHPs on cost grounds. They would only tell me the numbers of successful applications. As it won't take any readers long to realise, you can't work out the success rates of applications without both sets of figures.

Any readers of Private Eye will know that they have been scathing of the use of sputious costs claims to avoid providing information and I think this is what we've got here. Their reasons are, well I can't understand them so I'll have to quote them for you and see what you think;

As Nottingham City Council only records successful applicants, an Officer would need to manually check the imaging system and paper records for each year to work out the total number of applicants for the scheme. There are 174 cases caught by the time period and each case would take approximately 45 minutes to check." In all they want £2,800 for the missing bit of info.

Do what? Where has 174 cases come from? In all there's over 1000 successful claims so I reckon the total number of claims is going to be between 3-5k.

And look what I found after a little interwebs search. Its a report to the Task and Finish Panel (who they?) dated 18 September 2006. This report includes details of both successful claims AND total claims for the whole of 2005/6 and about half of 2006/7. Looks like its not so difficult to find these figures after all.

To me thats got em bang to rights so I sent an appeal off toot sweet. I also added in a supplementary request for their policies and criteria for awarding DHPs while I was there. Just to piss them off you understand as I'm pretty damn sure they haven't got any. Initially I got a rather hurt sounding email including the following;

It may help your understanding if I explain how my team works, and fits in with the rest of the Council. Information Governance is a small team based in Legal and Democratic Services. We get all kinds of queries related to the Council, and do not have expertise in all of them...

...information regarding claims would need to be checked on a case by case basis, as often once unsuccessful claims have been resubmitted with further evidence or for a later period and then been awarded a DHP...

...I would like you to know that this Office works hard to provide each customer with the information they require..."

Yeah whatever, dry your eyes mate, just send me the info.

The response to the other request I submitted was even funnier. I was hoping to see the minutes of the meetings where the change in management was decided to see who was behind it and the rationale (reasons will almost certainly be revealed in a future post). They sent me minutes of meetings alright, they were even about the service area I was asking about. However none of these meetings had anything whatsoever to do with the change I was interested in and in fact, predated it by at least a year. Appeal submitted...

Cock up or conspiracy, I'm not sure I can tell any more. They're certainly capable of both big style.

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