FOI Complaint Handling Information

Richard Jackson made this Freedom of Information request to Rother District Council

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 successful.

Richard Jackson

Dear Sir or Madam,

According to the Statutory Code of Practice for Freedom of Information, each public authority should publish its target times for determining complaints and information as to how successful it is with meeting those targets.

I have been unable to find either of these on your website. In fact, in the A-Z directory of services, there are links to webpages on FOI for East Sussex, Lewes, and Eastbourne Councils, but, surprisingly, none for Rother.

Can you please either direct me to where this information has already been published, or else release, for each quarter since FOI has been in place, details on what the target time for complaint handling was, how many complaints were received in the period, and what time was achieved for handling those.

Thank you,

Richard

Richard Jackson

Dear Sir or Madam,

Your response to this request is now overdue. Please advise.

Yours sincerely,

Richard

David Edwards, Rother District Council

I am now out of the office - I hope to be back Monday 1 September.

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Lynda Crawford, Rother District Council

Dear Mr Jackson
It appears that your request was overlooked at the time of receipt. I
will record your request today and will speak with Mr Edwards next week
when he returns from leave. I apologise for any inconvenience.

Lynda Crawford
Admin Assistant
www.rother.gov.uk

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Dear Lynda Crawford,

Please take this as a formal complaint and request for internal review in relation to my ignored request.

I fail to understand why it matters in the slightest that a single member of staff is on leave, when the information that I requested is information that the Council is required to publish and should easily have to hand.

Yours sincerely,

Richard

Lynda Crawford, Rother District Council

Dear Mr Jackson

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION 2000

With reference to your request for information about our complaint
handling procedure and your subsequent complaint, I would comment as
follows.

This is a comparatively small authority and it would be difficult to
operate the sort of multi-layered complaints system that could be set up
by a much larger authority such as a County or Unitary. With any
complaint system, the main objective is to ensure that complaints are
dealt with by someone separate from the original decision-maker. The
Council has a Council-wide complaints system, and complaints about
Freedom of Information are processed under that procedure. Accordingly,
the section 45 Code of Practice may not be followed to the letter, but a
robust complaints system is in operation. This is detailed on our
website; please see http://www.rother.gov.uk/index.cfm?artic...

In relation to response times this says: "The Council will normally
reply to your complaint within 10 working days".

Our Freedom of Information tracking system records complaints made, but
as complaints are forwarded to another system they are not further
tracked as Freedom of Information complaints. Production of quarterly
statistics would not be meaningful, because we have only received ten
complaints. The following table gives their FOI reference number and the
date of the complaint. I believe that these complaints were, in the
main, resolved satisfactorily; I am not aware of any having been
referred on to the Information Commissioner.

FOI No # ComplaintReceived

51 20/05/2005
99 18/11/2005
149 07/06/2006
154 14/07/2006
204 01/12/2006
360 18/04/2008
373 31/07/2008
405 23/07/2008
407 23/07/2008
430 02/09/2008

In the circumstances, as we have provided what information we can, I
invite you to withdraw your complaint.

David Edwards
Interin Solicitor
www.rother.gov.uk
<http://www.rother.gov.uk/>

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Dear Lynda/David,

Thank you for eventually providing some of the information requested. However I do not believe your rationale is valid, and I decline to withdraw my complaint and request for internal review.

Yours sincerely,

Richard

Suzanne Grisbrook, Rother District Council

Dear Mr Jackson,

Your complaint in respect of FOI complaint handling information has been
passed onto me. I have looked into this matter as requested by you.
Firstly I must apologise once again that your original request for
information was missed, this was a genuine oversight. I believe that all
the information that we had available for FOI complaints was forwarded to
you as requested. I have looked at the way that we handle FOI complaints
and have asked for some improvements to the system in order that we are
more readily able to extract the information that we need in the future.

I hope that this answers your complaint.

Yours sincerely

Suzanne Grisbrook

Head of Corporate Services

Rother District Council

Town Hall

Bexhill-on-Sea

East Sussex

TN39 3JX

Tel: 01424 787716

E-mail: [1][email address]

www.rother.gov.uk

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References

Visible links
1. mailto:[email address]

Richard Jackson left an annotation ()

Complaint made to ICO.

Francis Irving left an annotation ()

What have you complained about to the ICO?

I believe that their actual handling of this request has been good - i.e. they have given you the information that they hold and that you have asked for.

Richard Jackson left an annotation ()

Well, apart from the procedural problems with their request (I believe that authorities should be able to handle requests even when people are on leave), my main concern is that they haven't given me the key information I was requesting: i.e. how long FOI complaint handling usually takes.

They have stated that the complaints are forwarded to another system but have not explained why they cannot extract the requested information from there, particularly when there have been so few complaints.

The implication from the statement that they are "not further tracked as Freedom of Information complaints" implies that it is not that they do not hold the information at all, but that it would be too much effort to extract the data from that other system.

In the absence of a formal rejection notice I do not know whether this is the case or not, but I believe that they should make the effort to track this information down, as it is not just data that a single person (me) has requested, but information that the Code of Practice states that they should be tracking and publishing as a matter of course.

It is for the Commissioner to decide whether, in this regard, the Code should only apply to larger authorities, as Rother are claiming, or should apply to all. And, in the process, I hope that I can get my answer to how long complaints have generally taken to be resolved.

David Edwards, Rother District Council

1 Attachment

Dear Mr Jackson,
I refer to your outstanding request for information about complaints
handling in relation to Freedom of Information requests, which you have
referred to the Information Commissioner. I apologise for the delay in
providing the information you requested. This is not a matter of
reluctance on our part, it is simply the mechanics of assembling the
information. I thought the best way of presenting the information was
by way of a little Microsoft Word Table which is attached. You are
already in communication with the Information Commissioner about this
matter, and I assume you will let us both know if you are dissatisfied.

Regards,
David.
David Edwards
Solicitor to the Council, Rother D.C.
Town Hall, Bexhill TN39 3JX Tel: 01424-787840
www.rother.gov.uk

P please consider the environment, and do not print this email unless it
is really necessary

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Richard Jackson left an annotation ()

Response from ICO 4 Feb 2009:

I am writing in regards to a complaint that you have referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office (‘ICO’). This concerned your request that Rother District Council (‘the Council’) provides you with information about its handling of complaints since the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’).

The information request itself could be broken down into three parts:

1. ‘…details on what the target time for complaint handling was’

2. ‘…how many complaints were received in the period’

3. ‘…what time was achieved for handling those.’

The Council furnished you with data relating to parts 1 and 2 of the above. However, in reference to part 3, the Council informed you that the information was tracked on two different software systems and, consequently, the information could not be extracted.

On www.whatdotheyknow.com, you have questioned the Council’s explanation that the information could not be gathered, and also commented on certain procedural problems associated with the request.

* ICO Involvement *

I have recently been in contact with the Council in order to clarify the reasons why it was unable to provide the information required under part 3 of the requests. Following our discussions, the Council has accepted that it could manually trace the progress of the complaints and could therefore draw out the relevant data. I believe that the Council has now posted a table showing the handling times of four complaints on www.whatdotheyknow.com.

I am aware that, in connection with part 2 of the requests, the Council had initially indicated to you that it had received 10 complaints. However, when examining the data, the Council has since found that of these 10, only four had been received at the time of the request and were subject to the Act.

Whilst I acknowledge that the Council’s initial provision of inaccurate information is misleading, I hope that the table that the Council has now compiled is useful to you.

* Procedural Issues *

Having had the opportunity to review the Council’s management of your information request, it is apparent that the Council has failed to meet its obligations under the Act on three occasions:

a. Failure to respond to your information request of 24 July 2008 within 20 working days, in breach of section 10(1) of the Act;

b. Failure to provide accurate information to you at the initial stages of the Council’s response;

c. Failure of the Council to publish its target times for handling complaints.

Although I will be highlighting all three points to the Council, I believe that parts (a) and (b) are self-evident so do not need to be discussed further here.

However, in regards to part (c), I appreciate that the Council’s failure to publish the requested information formed part of your complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office, and so I will address this below.

In paragraph 42 of the section 45 Code of Practice, it states:

‘Authorities should set their own target times for dealing with complaints; these should be reasonable, and subject to regular review. *Each public authority should publish its target times for determining complaints and information as to how successful it is with meeting these targets* [my emphasis].’

The Council has suggested that, owing to the few numbers of complaints received, it would not be worthwhile to publish information pertaining to the complaint handling. Nevertheless, the ICO is of the view that, by publishing such data, the Council can be seen to be monitoring its own complaints structures and processes.

The ICO will therefore ask the Council to ensure that this information is published in the future, in line with the recommendations advocated by the Code of Practice.

* Way Forward *

As it appears that the Council has now complied with your original information request, this case will be closed in line with the Commissioner’s ‘Robust Approach.’ This allows for the closure of a case where the formalisation of a decision would not require a public authority to take any constructive steps.

However, as noted previously, I will be raising the subject of the procedural issues connected to the complaint with the Council.

Finally, I hope the information that the Council has now provided to you is of assistance. If you wish to discuss any aspect of the case or my account, then please feel free to contact me.