FOI requests from HM Treasury which have been referred to the Cabinet Office 'clearing house'

The request was refused by Cabinet Office.

Dear Cabinet Office,

Please supply a list of all FOI requests which have been referred to the Cabinet Office 'clearing house' by HM Treasury on the subject of, or containing a reference to, any of the specified subjects below:

1. Loan Charge
2. Disguised remuneration (DR)
3. HMRC and/or RCDTS contractors
4. Emails to/from any of the following: Jim Harra, Mary Aiston, Amyas Morse, Tom Scholar, Ruth Stanier, Justin Holliday, Jesse Norman, Mel Stride, Beth Russell
5. Counter Avoidance

Yours faithfully,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Team Mailbox, Cabinet Office

Hi Adam Bridgen,

I am writing with regards to your request for information under the
Freedom of Information Act 2000, which was received on 20 May 2021.

We have given consideration to your request and have concluded that we
require further clarification as to what you are requesting before we are
able to proceed.

We require clarification on the date range for the information that you
are requesting. Without a date range, this is a very wide ranging request
and the cost limit would very likely apply. If you could specify what date
range you would like covered, it is more likely we could conduct a search
within the cost limit.
Kind regards, 
Cabinet Office FOI Team

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Dear FOI Team Mailbox,

Your team have determined that both this request and FOI2021/11378 require information on the applicable date range. This has now been supplied (with additional detail) on the FOI2021/11378 thread.

To distinguish the two (separate) requests, perhaps it would be prudent to issue a reference number for this one as previously suggested.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

Dear FOI Team Mailbox,

I have just sent a reply to FOI2021/11378, which was initially submitted as a separate request, but which it appears your team may have 'combined' with this unreferenced request.

As no response at all has been provided to this unreferenced request, it is reasonable to assume that you have indeed combined the two, but it is not clear and has not been confirmed.

I have therefore asked for clarification on how exactly you intend to manage both these requests, and to provide a separate reference number for this request (as I originally asked) or to let me know that your section 12 refusal - issued under FOI2021/11378 - applies to both (combined) requests or not. That will then enable me to either narrow my request(s) as suggested or to submit further request(s) for internal review(s).

Thank you for your understanding and co-operation.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Team Mailbox, Cabinet Office

1 Attachment

Dear Adam Bridgen,

Thank you for your recent correspondence of 5 October.

I can confirm that both of your requests received on 20 May were
aggregated under one reference number, FOI2021/11378. I note your point
that your requests should have been dealt with separately, however when
calculating the cost limit public authorities can aggregate requests which
ask for the same or similar information and are received within a
60 working day period. In this instance, both of your requests sought
identical information concerning two different government departments, HMT
and HMRC.

I apologise that this was not made clear to you initially. Our response of
6 August included references to both HMT and HMRC, however I acknowledge
that this may not have been sufficient in confirming the requests had been
aggregated.

You may wish to submit a refined request or seek an internal review of our
response of 6 August. Please let us know which route, if any, you would
like to pursue. I attach a copy of our response for ease of reference.

Kind regards,

Freedom of Information Team
Cabinet Office

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Dear FOI Team Mailbox,

Thank you for your reply of 07 October and your apologies for the unclear handling and communication concerning the two separate requests which I made on 20 May.

It would appear that each time I try to construct an ongoing dialogue on one specific request thread, your next reply seems to be to the other. I am uncertain as to whether this is by chance or design, but it has certainly made everything a little more confusing than it perhaps needed to be.

However, having accepted your apology, I would now like to try and make some progress with these and have attempted to summarise the current situation and status below:

On 05 October, I sent a follow-up reply to FOI2021/11378, asking if your refusal on the grounds of a section 12 exemption covered one or both of these separate submissions as it had not previously been made clear - for the reasons already described across both threads - whether these were being handled by the CO as one combined request or not.

In your reply from 07 October, you have now confirmed that both requests from 20 May were aggregated under one reference number (FOI2021/11378) for the reasons you have since outlined. You also stated that both of the requests sought identical information - this is not quite correct, as there was a distinction between the two requests (one concerning HMT, one concerning HMRC) with regard to point 4, where the identified persons for HMT included three additional names - Jesse Norman, Mel Stride, Beth Russell.

You have also confirmed that 'the information I have requested could be contained in over 350 emails', estimating that it would equate to over 29 hours of work if an average of 5 minutes was taken to review each email and extract the information in scope. This was your calculation based on the specified date range from September 2019 through to June 2021 (for both requests) which I communicated on 05 July. Your confirmation that the time limit for requests to central government is set at 24 hours (3 and 1/2 working days) is therefore recognised by the amended calculation I can now apply to meet that time limit.

The period between September 2019 and June 2021 (inclusive) covers 22 months, which you have estimated would take just over 29 hours of work using the search criteria stated in the two requests. If one is attempting to comply with the statutory limit of 24 hours and resolve the section 12 refusal, then on this basis it can be logically calculated that a period of 18.2 months would succeed in meeting that objective.

Please could I revise the date range to cover a period between September 2019 and February 2021 (inclusive), which equates to 18 months and should thus fall within the 24 hour limit - thank you. Please use the original search criteria (subjects / references) which were specified in the two separate requests. As I have only asked for a list (and not the content) of the FOI requests which have been referred to the Cabinet Office clearing house by either HMT or HMRC on those subjects, it would be reasonable to assume that there is nothing of a sensitive nature which could be disclosed - it is simply a factual statement of which requests have been referred to that department.

I made the following comments in one of my prior messages, but for the purpose of clarity and emphasis, I would like to reiterate these same points once again if I may -

"It is apparent that the Cabinet Office produces a daily list which is circulated across Whitehall, and which very helpfully includes a column entry titled 'department received' - a clear indication as to which department has received the original request and referred it to the Cabinet Office. Any competent technician would be able to search documents related to the aforementioned dates, either collectively or individually, within seconds. Evaluating whether the requests in scope reference the subject matter I have listed would (again) take a matter of seconds.

To further aid (and if necessary, to cross-reference) your analysis, it would be reasonable to assume that the Cabinet Office has a central mailbox which acts as a primary 'group' mailbox for any referred Freedom of Information requests. Searching this singular mailbox in parallel for those requests received from either HMRC or HMT should, again, be a straightforward exercise for anyone with even the most basic technical ability."

This should clearly ease any burden on the department as the information will already pre-exist and it should be a simple task to review the data; however, with the narrowed date range I have also now provided to meet the statutory time limit for these searches (if the department still consider that an email search is necessary in addition, or perhaps as an alternative method of supplying the requested information), I hope that this will now allow you to proceed with the search, comply with my request and to supply the relevant list - thank you once again.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Our ref: FOI2021/20924

Dear Adam Bridgen,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 29th
October. Your request is being handled under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 ('the Act').

The Act requires that a response must be given promptly, and in any event
within 20 working days. We will therefore aim to reply at the latest by
26th November.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear Adam Bridgen,

Please find attached our response to your recent Freedom of Information
request (reference FOI2021/20924).

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

I note your reply from 22 November 2021, where you once again cite refusal to provide the requested information under section 12(2) of the Freedom of Information Act, despite the narrowing in scope of this combined HMRC/HMT-related request.

Within your first refusal using the same section of the FOIA, you claimed that the information I have requested could be contained in over 350 emails, estimating that it would equate to over 29 hours of work if an average of 5 minutes was taken to review each email and extract the information in scope. This was based on the specified date range from September 2019 through to June 2021 (a period of 22 months in total) for both my requests.

Within this most recent refusal, you claimed that the information I have requested could be contained in over 315 emails, estimating that it would equate to over 26 hours of work if an average of 5 minutes was taken to review each email and extract the information in scope. This was based on the narrowed date range from September 2019 through to February 2021 (a period of 18 months in total), again for both requests.

It is apparent that you make no reference to the daily list of Freedom of Information requests referred to the Cabinet Office which is publicly known to be circulated across Whitehall. It remains unclear whether or not the 'emails' which you have referenced are therefore those daily lists or whether they are perhaps something else altogether. I would be grateful if, within your next reply, you could kindly confirm which is the case.

In order to assist the authority in their endeavours to provide this information, I will therefore narrow the scope of this request even further in order to meet the cost limit of 24 hours. Please remove 'Counter Avoidance' (detailed as point 5 on both HMRC and HMT requests), but retain all other subjects as listed. Please also use a specified date range from September 2019 through to December 2020 inclusive (a period of 16 months in total), which - in combination with the reduced scope on the subject matter - should now readily fall within the threshold of 24 hours work.

Yours faithfully,

Adam Bridgen

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Our ref: FOI2022/01127

Dear Adam Bridgen,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 21st
January. Your request is being handled under the terms of the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 ('the Act').

The Act requires that a response must be given promptly, and in any event
within 20 working days. We will therefore aim to reply at the latest by
18th February.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear Adam Bridgen,

Please find attached our response to your recent Freedom of Information
request (reference FOI2022/01127).

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

Please pass this on to the person who conducts Freedom of Information reviews.

I am writing to request an internal review of Cabinet Office's handling of my FOI request 'FOI requests from HM Treasury which have been referred to the Cabinet Office 'clearing house''.

Thank you for your most recent response.

Having narrowed the date range of my request (twice) following the original scope and removed one of the search criteria entries to help the authority meet the cost limits, I had previously asked the Cabinet Office to reply to this specific point -

"It is apparent that you make no reference to the daily list of Freedom of Information requests referred to the Cabinet Office which is publicly known to be circulated across Whitehall. It remains unclear whether or not the 'emails' which you have referenced are therefore those daily lists or whether they are perhaps something else altogether. I would be grateful if, within your next reply, you could kindly confirm which is the case."

No such confirmation has been provided and the question remains unanswered.

You have also summarised your understanding of my revised request in your reply, but have made a mistake with point 3 as I did not ask for information on any HMT contractors - only HMRC and/or RCDTS contractors. This misunderstanding has likely contributed to the increased estimates you gave on the number of emails which you deemed in scope and needing to be searched and analysed, and which would therefore have been inaccurate based on this unnecessary search element. Of the eight requests which you have disclosed in this response, six were exclusively concerned with HM Treasury contractors - which I did not ask for and which serve no purpose, interest or benefit for the information being sought.

It is probable that this oversight by the Cabinet Office has increased the number of emails (or lists - refer to point already made above) which the authority claims as a number which would exceed the FOI cost limit, and which in turn forced me to unnecessarily narrow the scope of my original request.

For this reason, I would ask that the authority revisits my original request and searches a date range between September 2019 through to June 2021, for parts 1,2,3 and 4 of that same request but excluding any mention of HM Treasury contractors as this was not required, or requested.

It is extremely difficult to believe or accept that - between the date range of September 2019 and December 2020, a period spanning sixteen months - the Cabinet Office received no referrals on the subject of the Loan Charge, no referrals on disguised remuneration (DR), and no referrals on emails to or from Jim Harra, Mary Aiston, Amyas Morse, Tom Scholar, Ruth Stainer, Justin Holliday, Jesse Norman, Mel Stride or Beth Russell.

The large numbers of FOI requests on these contentious subjects which are already in the public domain is clear from the data available on the WhatDoTheyKnow website, but there will also quite obviously be many more requests which have been submitted privately to HM Revenue & Customs and HM Treasury. By re-examining this request and performing the search with the correct criteria on this occasion, it is likely that the original date range can be accommodated within the FOI cost limit, which should - if the search is properly transparent - expose any referrals within those additional dates.

A full history of my FOI request and all correspondence is available on the Internet at this address: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/f...

Yours faithfully,

Adam Bridgen

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Dear Adam Bridgen,

Thank you for your request for an internal review (reference
IR2022/07045), which was prompted by our response to your request for
information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

We shall endeavour to complete the internal review and respond to you
within 20 working days.

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future
communications.

Yours sincerely,

FOI Team

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear Adam Bridgen,

Please find attached our response to your request for an Internal Review
(reference IR2022/07045).

Yours sincerely,

FOI Team