Welcome for FoI findings
There will be no substantial changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FoI), and FoI requests will remain free, it has been confirmed this week
FoI enables individuals and organisations to ask questions of public bodies, and information gleaned through FoI has played a major role in key Joint Public Issues Team campaigns (JPIT).
However, an independent commission of FoI legislation was established last summer amid concerns that sensitive information was being inadequately protected. JPIT submitted evidence to the commission, alongside a number of public bodies such as councils and media organisations.
This commission has now released its report, and concluded that "there is no evidence that the act needs to be radically altered, or that the right of access to information needs to be restricted." Indeed, FoI had "enhanced openness and transparency".
This finding was reflected in the JPIT response to the FoI commission, which stated that greater access to information “enables our Churches and others to examine evidence for proposed change in policy and this in turn improves the quality of public and parliamentary debate.”
In particular it explained how it had used FOI to investigate the benefit sanctions system, and in particular concerns about the “misleading” presentation of national statistics to support government policy.
The information led to the churches, alongside the Church of Wales, publishing a report exploring benefit sanctions. In doing so the report provided evidence that those with mental health problems were being increasingly affected by sanctioning, and the first public estimate of the number of children affected by the policy. The national statistician has also made recommendations to rectify this use of statistics.
‘FOIs from ourselves and others raised suspicions and also allowed confirmation of the details of the misleading information,’ the JPIT response to the FoI review stated. ‘It is important to note that it was a combination of concerned individuals writing FOIs, often as a response to personal experiences, and organisations submitting FOIs in a systematic way that allowed a full picture of both the misleading statements and the reality that they were designed to obscure.’