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UK Councils and FOI stonewalling - a question

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posted on May, 2 2008 @ 11:17 AM
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I've sent a FOI request to my local council requesting information on how people are nominated (by a council panel) for social housing, amongst other things.

The information is not freely available or published, and I was surprised that they could actually do this i.e. Nominate a person for social housing, outside the usual criteria laid down in law for the allocation of social housing.

In my local councils offices, they state on posters, that they will comply with any reasonable request.

With certain exemptions, I understood that they had to comply with ALL requests.

Because I have received no reply or even a refusal notice, I am now forwarding this to the ICO, for deliberation.

This, to me is a political question, which is why I've put it in here - apologies if it's in the wrong place.

What I'd like to know is if any members have any expertise in this area, and if they could help me move forwards with this.

The nominations process means that people who may not qualify for social housing in ordinary circumstances, can be "jumped" ahead of those in more need on the say so of a panel, which is without public oversight.

In other words, it hasn't been unknown for relatives of council workers/members to be given social housing ahead of those in need, and I'm looking to explore how it works and if any kind of nepotism has been involved in the process.




posted on May, 2 2008 @ 11:48 AM
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They don't have to indulge all requests, Budski, but they've got to give the ICO a very good reason indeed for their failure to comply.

e.g. a vexatious customer abusing the spirit of the FOI & seeking the total for the number of chocolate biscuits consumed at council meetings ... he won't be indulged ... basically because keeping stats on biscuit consumption is a total waste of taxpayers money. But if the same customer asks for financials for the last 5 years hospitality budget of course they should be provided ... the ICO will slaughter the council if they don't respond appropriately.

Either way the council must respond to the request within 40 days. Most have an officer with a particular responsibility for FOI matters ... maybe try your local town hall to see if you can have a word with him/her ?

Your FOI request seems perfectly reasonable, IMHO.



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 11:58 AM
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I understood the time limit to be 20 working days - which was up yesterday.

And yes, I understand about vexatious or nuisance requests.

I have written to the council again this morning stating that they have not provided the information within the specified time limit, and nor have they issued a refusal, also stating my intent to escalate the request to the ICO, because of non-compliance.

I'm not sure on the procedure for this, although I am taking guidance from the ICO official site.

I just wondered which was the best route to go down, if anyone here has experience of this.

My local council is well known for being self-serving.

Take this case in point - a letter was sent to a friend of mine saying that this year the council would not be paying a proportion of his rent, due to an unfair rent increase.

The letter was dated 29th Feb - it was posted on 2nd April - so before he even got the news he was outside the timeframe for an appeal, which must be made withind 1 month of the date on the letter - but I just told him to get form AP2 and go to an independant tribunal.

Sneaky gits they are.



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 01:05 PM
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20 days is defined in the legislation, however ....

"The Secretary of State may by regulations provide that subsections (1) and (2) are to have effect as if any reference to the twentieth working day following the date of receipt were a reference to such other day, not later than the sixtieth working day following the date of receipt, as may be specified in, or determined in accordance with, the regulations."

Certainly in the Civil Service, where I work, we work to a 40 day target ... I'd "assume" local authorities are the same but without delving in the minutiae of legislation I'd just be guessing.

Here's the whole Act, if that's any help ...

Freedom of Information Act 2000 (UK)

As to your friend's problems, it's more an admin snafu than anything else. The clock starts ticking as soon as he gets the letter ... not from the date it was prepared. He should appeal anyway ... and explain the reasons why it appears his appeal is late. It's up to the Tribunal Service to decide whether the appeal is time barred, not the council.

Happens all the time, I'm afraid.



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 01:20 PM
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Originally posted by budski
I have written to the council again this morning stating that they have not provided the information within the specified time limit, and nor have they issued a refusal, also stating my intent to escalate the request to the ICO, because of non-compliance.


I think that's exactly the course you should have took. If they fail to reply again, write to your MP and the Information Commissioner - between them they should be able to squeeze an answer out of the council. I find threatening to write to my MP is usually a pretty good way to get the council to do something



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 01:22 PM
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It's funny this confusion


I'll have a closer look - certainly in the acknowledgement to my original request, they said that they had 20 working days to respond,and as I had it in writing from them, I'm going to hold them to it


The other instance wasn't just a snafu - they do it every year, date the letters a month before they are posted to try and avoid any appeals.

But yes, it's up to the tribunal - which will probably cost them more than actually paying the £2.31 pw rent increase.



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 01:24 PM
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reply to post by Ste2652
 


Thank ste2652,
do you have any knowledge of preferential treatment in the social housing allocations process, or indeed nepotism?

I ask purely out of curiosity - it would be interestin to know if all councils are as bad as mine



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 01:34 PM
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I bet the Council haven't told him about the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund either ... which tops up rent payments to prevent hardship. Most keep that one well under wraps.

Trust me, Budski, it's a snafu.

If I want to send a letter to someone I don't type it out myself on a PC ... write the whole damn thing out on A4 by hand and send it off in an envelope to a typing pool forty miles away. And there it sits for weeks on end in an enormous backlog, finally arriving back on my desk with ... the date I sent it to typing endorsed on the letter rather than the date I'm actually going to post the damned thing.

Hopelessly inefficient. But keeps the typists in a job and saves paying out a shedload of ££ in redundancy payments.



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 02:00 PM
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reply to post by budski
 


No, when I contacted them it was about a fence. They'd taken the old one down (the wood was rotting away) and promised to put a new one up, but nothing happened for weeks.

I contacted them again, and they said the job had been completed. So I politely told them I was standing at the window looking at an empty space where a fence should be, but wasn't. They did come round a few days later and put half a fence up, but left the rest of it...

So we wrote to them, told them that if it wasn't sorted we'd write to our MP, and that did the trick.

Mind you, we did hear all kinds of excuses... (Poor record keeping, running out of money [despite council tax rises] and so on)

As I've said before, local government needs a serious overhaul. But you're not alone in having a council in which there are a lot of inefficient, questionable and downright wasteful elements. Another example... they spend £20,000 on a sculpture in a town centre near me. I use the word 'sculpture' very losely, as it's basically just a stack of yellow beer crates... and the worst thing is they didn't even get a British artist to do it! It was a German guy, apparently. Now personally I'd have asked local schoolchildren to come up with a design and have it produced locally.

Perhaps the worst one is spending £4.8million on a footbridge over a river... despite the fact that there's a perfectly good one (which also carries traffic) a couple of hundred meters away. I find that ludicrous, and so do most people in the area... yet still they go ahead.

[edit on 2/5/08 by Ste2652]



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 02:21 PM
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I dont know if you remember the rebel comedian, Mark Thomas, who had a series a few years ago 'The Mark Thomas Product' where he exploited all the FOIA loopholes and other legislations he could...

Anyhow, in one of his shows he reported that for 2 weeks of every year, the public is allowed unfettered access to local government documents which you are free to photocopy under the 2-week loophole, and members of the public have already used information gleaned from this source to indict and prosecute council members!



Mark Thomas public access info

Any member of the public, for 2 weeks of the year can ask to see any receipts and paperwork about the accounts for that year. Receipts for expenses, etc. They have to let you copy it.
* Some councils are more open than others. Ebbw Vale weren't quite as open as Southwark
* Glenys & Colin Francombe used the act to find out about their council financial records resulting in the conviction of 12 Blaenau Gwent councillors for falsifying their expenses.
* One councillor was involved in an election and claimed he was honest. As soon as he was elected he pleaded guilty as charged.


If you email his research team at feedback@markthomasinfo.com I'm sure he'd be only too happy to give you further details



posted on May, 2 2008 @ 03:49 PM
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reply to post by citizen smith
 


I met Mark Thomas a couple of times when I was doing volunteer work for a local theatre (now called an arts centre) and he did shows there.

He's a very nice, switched on bloke and I had a good chat with him.

It wouldn't surprise me if he was a member here.

I think I still have a couple of pics on my phone of us yukking it up with a beer


Back to the point - great idea, I'll be sure to drop his team a note


Nice one



posted on May, 16 2008 @ 02:21 PM
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Budski,
I think that the information you have gained from the other members who have replied is about right, and it is pointing you in the right direction.

However, i agree with you, with regards to timeline and response.
Public authorities must comply with your request promptly, and should provide the information to you within 20 working days (around a month). If they need more time, they must write to you and tell you when they will be able to answer your request, and why they need more time.

Charity "hit the nail on the head" regarding your friend, and the fact unless you know its there and available, the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund.

He must make an appeal and seek a tribunal hearing straight away.



posted on May, 17 2008 @ 09:39 AM
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reply to post by spymaster
 


I've got it all done now - the only problem is that my mate wants me to go to the tribual with him as his "representative"

So, I've got a lot of reading to do.

Interestingly, the list that I got from the council concerning the nominations process has a few names on it that are the same as surnames on the nominations panel....

Now, what to do with it...




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