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Hounslow health trust blasted for FOI failings

'Totally unacceptable...'

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The Information Commissioner's Office has strongly criticised Hounslow Primary Care Trust for failing to meet its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

Richard Thomas, ICO chief executive, said: "Hounslow PCT's records management is clearly inadequate and its performance in handling this case has been totally unacceptable. The Freedom of Information Act must be properly implemented by public bodies - it is not a voluntary scheme that organisations can dip in and out of..."

The case concerned a request for information first received in January 2005 concerning the death of the requester's father-in-law. The requester was not satisfied with what was received and he asked for more information in February 2006.

In order for the ICO to decide whether or not the information should be released it needed to see the relevant documents, but Hounslow "failed on numerous occasions to respond to requests". Eventually, the ICO went to the High Court to certify Hounslow was in contempt of court - the first time it has done so under the FOI.

The ICO said it was particularly concerned by the trust's claim that it did not hold documents which it then later found.

The decision notice orders Hounslow to provide further documents and names of senior staff or face further action in the High Court.

The information regulator recommends that Hounslow reviews its record management system and get advice from the Records Management Advisory Service at the National Archives.

If Hounslow fails to comply with the latest decision notice the ICO will take it back to the High Court. The regulator said it expected a "step change" in how Hounslow PCT deals with future FOI requests.

The ICO decision notice is available here (pdf). ®

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