Delay in converting civil partnerships to marriage

Harry Small made this Freedom of Information request to Department for Culture, Media and Sport

This request has been closed to new correspondence from the public body. Contact us if you think it ought be re-opened.

The request was refused by Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Dear Department for Culture, Media and Sport,

I should be very grateful if you would provide the following documents, which concern the delay in bringing into force section 9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which enables persons in civil partnerships to convert those partnerships into marriage.

Assessments of the

(A) time;
(B) cost; and
(C) resources

required to bring local and national systems into compliance with section 9.

Assessments of the cost (if any) and other consequences of bringing forward the date for implementation of section 9.

Statements of the resources allocated to implementation of section 9.

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Harry Small

Dear Department for Culture, Media and Sport,

I am disappointed that you have fails to answer my request. Please could you now do so without further delay in order to comply with your legal obligations.

Yours faithfully,

Harry Small

FOI, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

3 Attachments

Dear Mr Small,

 

Thank you for your information request of 22 March. You wrote:

 

“I should be very grateful if you would provide the following documents,
which concern the delay in bringing into force section 9 of the Marriage
(Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which enables persons in civil partnerships
to convert those partnerships into marriage.

Assessments of the

(A) time;

(B) cost; and

(C) resources

required to bring local and national systems into compliance with section
9.

Assessments of the cost (if any) and other consequences of bringing
forward the date for implementation of section 9.

Statements of the resources allocated to implementation of section 9.” 

 

We have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 200
(the Act).

 

We regret that we are unable to respond to your request in its current
wording because it exceeds the cost limit set out by the Act.  Section 12
of the Act makes provision for public authorities to refuse requests for
information where the cost of dealing with them would exceed the
appropriate limit, which for central government is set at £600. This
represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in
determining whether the department holds the information, locating,
retrieving and extracting the information. 

 

The reason that your request exceeds the cost limit is because you have
asked for ‘documents’ concerning the delay in bringing into force section
9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. We do not hold specific
documents outlining the information you are interested and in order to
comply with your request we would be required to search a large quantity
of information including emails, briefing papers etc. to ascertain whether
we held relevant information within scope of your request. 

 

You may wish to alter your request by changing its scope. If you would
like further information regarding the cost limit and how it is applied
please refer to the Office of Public Sector Information website using the
link below:

[1]http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2004/2004324...

 

Yours sincerely

Freedom of Information Team

 

 

 

Freedom of Information Team

4^th Floor, 100 Parliament Street, London SW1A 2BQ
[2]@dcms   [3]/dcmsgovuk | [4]www.gov.uk/dcms

 

Complaints and comments

As is customary in our replies, I would like to explain that if you are
dissatisfied with any aspect of our response to your request for
information and/or wish to appeal against information being withheld from
you please send full details within two calendar months of the date of
this email to:  [5][email address]

You have the right to ask the Information Commissioner (ICO) to
investigate any aspect of your complaint. Please note that the ICO is
likely to expect internal complaints procedures to have been exhausted
before beginning his investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dear FOI,

Very well. I withdraw the request for "documents" and replace it with with the word "information". I repeat the revised request below. Could you please try not to leave this until the last minute this time please.

Thanks

Yours sincerely,

Harry Small

I should be very grateful if you would provide information about the decision to delay the bringing into force section 9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which enables persons in civil partnerships
to convert those partnerships into marriage.

Please address the assessments of the

(A) time;

(B) cost; and

(C) resources

required to bring local and national systems into compliance with section 9; and any assessments of the cost (if any) and other consequences of bringing
forward the date for implementation of section 9 and the resources to be allocated to it.

Thank you.

Harry Small

FOI, Department for Culture, Media and Sport

4 Attachments

Dear Mr Small,

Thank you for your further information request of 4 May 2014 where you
repeat your previous request, withdrawing the request for “documents” and
replacing it with the word “information”. Your request was:

 

 1. Documents, which concern the delay in bringing into force section 9 of
the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which enables persons in
civil partnerships to convert those partnerships into marriage.
 2. Assessments of the:

(a)   time;

(b)   cost; and

(c)    resources

required to bring local and national systems into compliance with section
9.

 3. Assessments of the costs (if any) and other consequences of bringing
forward the date for implementation of section 9.
 4. Statements of the resources allocated to implementation of section 9.

 

We have dealt with your request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

 

We can confirm that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
holds some, but not all of the information that you have requested.  This
is partly because implementation of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act
2013 is a shared responsibility across many government departments and
agencies and these will all hold their own information.  Also, the
assessments of cost and resources that DCMS have considered relate to
implementation of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 in its entirety
rather than separate activities that solely relate, for example, to the
process for persons in civil partnerships to convert those partnerships to
marriages.

 

For item 1, it is important to note that there is no delay in bringing
into force section 9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.  The
Government’s priority was always to ensure that same-sex couples, who were
not currently in a civil partnership and who had been waiting to marry in
order to formalise their relationship, were able to do so as soon as
possible.  Therefore the focus of the Government’s work had been on
enabling new marriages to take place, and as a result this was able to
happen in March 2014 – several months earlier than anticipated.

 

As the Government [1]announced on 10 December 2013, we are working hard to
ensure that couples wanting to convert their civil partnerships into
marriages are able to do so as soon as possible.  We aim to do this before
the end of 2014.  There has been no change to this publicly stated
position.

 

These aspects of implementing the Act necessarily take longer because they
involve developing and implementing completely new procedures and
processes.  This contrasts with the work to make new marriages for same
sex couples possible, where we were able to build on existing processes so
implementation was more straightforward.

 

The work on conversion of civil partnerships involves:

o developing and implementing new legislation;
o developing and implementing completely new procedures and processes;
o designing new application forms and certificates;
o changing several IT systems;
o delivering guidance and training to operational staff.

 

For item 2(b) a full Impact Assessment of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples)
Act 2013 was published when the Act received Royal Assent.  This provides,
given the available evidence, a reasonable view of the likely costs,
benefits and impact of the options that the Government considered.

The Impact Assessment can be viewed online here:
[2]https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/sy...

 

We do not hold separate assessments of the costs and resources relating to
converting a civil partnership to a marriage alone.  The costs fall
primarily on public bodies, which need to adjust IT systems or
administrative processes to register same sex couples as married.  These
include to varying degrees the General Register Office, Department for
Work and Pensions, Office for National Statistics, Her Majesty's Revenue
and Customs, Ministry of Justice, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals
Service (including the Gender Recognition Panel).  There are also some
familiarisation costs for local authorities who employ registrars to
conduct civil marriage ceremonies and to undertake the conversion process.

 

I also attach for your information a “New Burden Assessment” pro-forma
which provides additional information on the cost of implementing the Act,
but again, it does not single out costs related to conversion from those
of implementing the whole Act.

 

We are not obliged to provide information if it relates to the formulation
of Government policy or Ministerial communications (section 35(1)(a) and
(b)). In line with the terms of these exemptions available in the Freedom
of Information Act 2000, we have considered whether it would be in the
public interest to release documents that relate to assessment of time,
the timetable and various consequences that may result from any
timetabling decisions (your items 1, 2 and 3), despite the exemption being
applicable.

 

In this case we have concluded that the public interest favours
withholding the information.  This is because, even though the Department
has publicly stated the aim to enable couples wanting to convert their
civil partnerships into marriages to do so before the end of 2014, and we
are working to achieve this, there are still ongoing discussions within
the Department and between Ministers from this and other government
departments over precise dates for various activities that make up the
timetable. Some of these are also subject to the necessary parliamentary
processes for secondary legislation which fall outside of the Department’s
control and therefore may change.  Once precise dates are confirmed we
will be in a position to make them public.  In withholding this
information under section 35(1)(a) and (b) I am required to carry out a
Public Interest Test.  Details of this consideration can be found in the
annex.

For item 4, the DCMS has approximately nine full-time equivalent policy
and legal staff working on implementing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples)
Act 2013.  As mentioned earlier, the new procedures and processes required
specifically for conversion of civil partnerships into marriages are the
shared responsibility of a number of other departments, the information
for which we do not hold.

Yours sincerely

Freedom of Information Team

 

 

 Freedom of Information Team

4^th Floor, 100 Parliament Street, London SW1A 2BQ

Telephone: 0207 211 6395
@dcms  /dcmsgovuk [3]www.gov.uk/dcms

 

Complaints and comments

As is customary in our replies, I would like to explain that if you are
dissatisfied with any aspect of our response to your request for
information and/or wish to appeal against information being withheld from
you please send full details within two calendar months of the date of
this email to:  [4][email address]

 

You have the right to ask the Information Commissioner (ICO) to
investigate any aspect of your complaint. Please note that the ICO is
likely to expect internal complaints procedures to have been exhausted
before beginning his investigation.

 

 

 

 

 

ANNEX – Public Interest Test
 
Some of the exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (the FoI
Act), referred to as ‘qualified exemptions’, are subject to a Public
Interest Test.  The test is used to balance the public interest in
disclosure against the public interest in favour of withholding the
information.  We must carry out the test where we are considering using
any of the qualified exemptions in response to a request for information.

The ‘public interest’ is not the same as what interests the public.  In
carrying out a Public Interest Test we consider the greater good or
benefit to the community as a whole if the information is released or
not.  The ‘right to know’ must be balanced against the need to enable
effective government and to serve the best interests of the public. 

The FoI Act is ‘applicant blind’.  This means that we cannot, and do not,
ask about the motives of anyone who asks for information.  In providing a
response to one person, we are expressing a willingness to provide the
same response to anyone, including those who might represent a threat to
the UK. 

Considerations in releasing the information
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) recognises that there
is a general public interest in openness and transparency in all aspects
of government. Such openness increases public trust and confidence in
government and promotes the accountability of government decision-making.

Furthermore, given the high level of public interest in the Marriage (Same
Sex Couples) Act 2013 (“the Act”), there is strong public interest in
demonstrating how and when the Government will implement the Act in its
entirety.  It could also be argued that, by releasing the details of the
timetable for implementation that relate to conversions of civil
partnerships to marriages, couples will be better placed to plan any
associated ceremonies, parties or other celebratory services and the
general public will know when to expect the first conversions of civil
partnerships to marriages to take place.

 

Considerations in withholding the information

 

The Act is a complex piece of legislation which requires input from many
different Government departments in terms of its full implementation. This
includes developing new legislation; changes being made to IT systems, the
processes for civil registration, pension schemes and other consequential
amendments; and guidance for the registration service, pension scheme
administrators and others.

Ministers will also need to bring forward a number of statutory
instruments for Parliamentary scrutiny setting out how the new
arrangements will apply to other legislation and on the detail of certain
processes.

 

Ministers and officials in DCMS are in ongoing discussions with other
departments about when these arrangements will be in place, and with the
parliamentary authorities, to allow the full implementation of the Act, so
the timetabling is subject to frequent changes.  The final decisions will
be taken by Ministers and they need to do so in private, based on the free
and frank advice of their officials and discussion with other Ministers.

It would undermine the ability of Ministers to take a fair and well-judged
decision based on all the relevant information if we were to disclose the
information prematurely, before a final timetable has been developed and
dates announced.  It would also risk couples who wanted to take advantage
of the provisions of the Act committing to converting a civil partnership
to a marriage and possible booking venues and incurring other expense
which might then be lost if the final timetable changed, either by being
brought forward or otherwise.

 

In any event, we have always intended to announce a date for the
provisions to come into force (subject to parliamentary approval) once
final timetabling arrangements have been confirmed, so that couples have
advance notice and can make any necessary arrangements.

 

 

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