Feeds

Government backs down on controversial FOI fees change

Bows to pressure groups

Maximizing your infrastructure through virtualization

The UK Government has dropped controversial proposals that critics said would have neutered the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. Changes to the charging structure that would have allowed bodies to refuse more requests will not now go ahead.

The move comes amid significant opposition from pressure groups and media companies, who say the changes would have hindered access to information about the activities of public bodies. Of the 324 people or organisations who responded to the Government's consultation on the plan, 73 per cent objected to it, the Ministry of Justice said.

"Many respondents considered the proposals contrary to democratic process," said the Ministry's summary of survey responses. "Those respondents generally argued that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 has become a feature of British democracy by holding public authorities to account and by creating greater transparency in decision-making and the use of public resources.

"The proposals would, it was thought, diminish the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act. Many respondents believed that the proposals unfairly targeted bodies acting in the broad public interest such as media and pressure groups."

The Ministry said it would not proceed with the proposed changes. "Taking account of the range of responses received, the Government has decided to make no changes to the existing fees regulations," it said. "It does intend, however, to deliver a package of measures to make better use of the existing provisions to improve the way FOI works and to meet the concerns particularly of local authorities."

The Government had proposed the changes because it believed that FOI requests were costing central and local government too much in time and money, and that many of the requests were vexatious.

The Ministry said it would work with the Information Commissioner's Office to promote its guidance on using existing rules to block vexatious requests or ones that harass the public body. It said it would produce its own guidance on the fees structure for public bodies, and would encourage public bodies to release more information voluntarily.

Most FOI requests are free, but once charged-for activity reaches a certain ceiling the request can be refused to stop FOI bills soaring. The threshold is £450 for local authorities and £600 for central government.

The proposals were to include more of the activity around a request on a billed-for basis, meaning that many more requests would reach the ceiling and therefore be refusable.

More controversially, the proposal bundled together requests from the same organisation under a single ceiling, meaning that media organisations as large as the BBC could only have been allowed a single request every three months.

"The Government does not believe that more restrictive rules on cost limits of FOI requests are the way forward," said Prime Minister Gordon Brown today, announcing the climbdown. "We do this because of the risk that such proposals might have placed unacceptable barrier between the people and public information."

Copyright © 2007, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Top three mobile application threats

More from The Register

next story
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.