FOI requests from HMRC 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 HMRC 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
5. Counter Avoidance

Yours faithfully,

Adam Bridgen

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

Our ref: FOI2021/11378

Dear Adam Bridgen,

Thank you for your request for information which was received on 20th May.
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 June.

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

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

Your initial response to this FOI request clearly stated that '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 June.'

The precise wording within the Freedom of Information Act (section 10 - Time for compliance with request) reaffirms your own statement - 'a public authority must comply with section 1(1) promptly and in any event not later than the twentieth working day following the date of receipt.'

It is therefore apparent that you are fully aware of the legislative requirement, and also fully aware that you are breaking that law by failing to respond within the specified timescale. Please explain why you have deliberately broken the law, and provide the required information as requested.

Yours faithfully,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Team Mailbox, Cabinet Office

Good Afternoon,
We had sent you an email on Mon, 7 Jun, 12:19, asking you to clarify your
request via the same email you had sent us the original request. The delay
is therefore due to lack of clarification provided from you. 
Copy of our email:
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
Kind regards, 
Cabinet Office FOI Team

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Dear FOI Team Mailbox,

Your assertion that any delay is due to a lack of clarification on my part overlooks one significant fact - that THIS FOI request is not the one to which you sent your reply dated 07 June.

You may therefore wish to check your own records for 'clarification' - to assist you with that exercise, please allow me to provide you with the relevant detail. I submitted two separate requests to your department, both dated 20 May.

One was titled 'FOI requests from HM Treasury which have been referred to the Cabinet Office 'clearing house'' and the other 'FOI requests from HMRC which have been referred to the Cabinet Office 'clearing house''. On 21 May, the Cabinet Office FOI Team confirmed receipt of the latter and issued a reference number (FOI2021/11378). The same team replied to the former submission with the email contents you have repeated again here, without providing a reference number. Whilst the two requests were similar in scope, you will (on inspection) be able to clearly see that they were not exactly the same - as was my purpose and intent.

Whilst I will concede that I have yet to respond to your email in relation to the date range, it was entirely legitimate to follow up on the other (FOI2021/11378) as THEY ARE TWO SEPARATE REQUESTS. You did not inform me that you were (incorrectly, it would appear) combining the two requests, hence my follow-up. I stand by that action as you only requested clarification on the date range for the HM Treasury-related request and not the HMRC-related submission.

If you would kindly acknowledge and confirm the above (and apologise for any inference that this was somehow my fault), then perhaps we can progress these as necessary. To aid accurate tracking and to maintain some (obviously necessary) attention to detail, I suggest you provide a reference number for the HM Treasury-related request and confirm whether or not the same requirement for a date range is applicable to the HMRC-related request.

Once I receive your clear and unambiguous response, I will formulate an appropriate reply.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

FOI Team Mailbox, Cabinet Office

Dear Adam Bridgen,
Thank you are your email and your patience. 
I am very sorry for the confusion and that you have not yet received a
response to your request. Please provide clarification on the date range
for the information that you are requesting in order to aid our search.
This is for your combined FOI request with (the reference FOI2021/11378).
I am also emailing to inform you that your case is still under
consideration, and I hope to be able to provide you with a response
shortly.
Kind regards, 
Cabinet Office FOI Team

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Dear FOI Team Mailbox,

Thank you for the apology and the confirmation that your request for a date range applies to both (different) submissions.

On that basis, please supply the information I have asked for in relation to both HMRC and HMT (on the two separate and contrasting submissions) from September 2019 through to June 2021.

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.

I am aware (from publicly available news reports) that the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) is to announce a probe into the Cabinet Office’s controversial ‘Clearing House’ unit, and the operation of FOI across Whitehall. This investigation follows a legal victory by openDemocracy, which forced the Cabinet Office to disclose information about the “Orwellian” unit run by Michael Gove’s department. The presiding judge (Chris Hughes) stated that there was a “profound lack of transparency about the operation”, which might “extend to ministers”. It is anticipated that a short, targeted inquiry will be held either directly before or after the summer recess.

Dependent on the subsequent response to these two Freedom of Information submissions, I will determine whether or not to provide PACAC / openDemocracy with additional evidence on the handling of my own requests.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Bridgen

Cabinet Office FOI Team,

1 Attachment

Dear Adam Bridgen,

With apologies for the delay, please find attached our response to your
recent Freedom of Information request (reference FOI2021/11378).

Yours sincerely,

Freedom of Information Team

Cabinet Office

Dear Cabinet Office,

Thank you for your reply of 06 August.

Before I proceed to respond, it is necessary to clarify the position on both this request (which you have given the reference FOI2021/11378) and the additional request 'FOI requests from HM Treasury which have been referred to the Cabinet Office 'clearing house'' which (to date) has still not been given a reference number or even had a reply. The link to the latter is here: https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/f...

On 05 July, I responded to FOI2021/11378 by providing an applicable date range.

On 07 July, I responded to the unreferenced request with the following clarification:
"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".

It is therefore difficult to establish whether or not your latest response to FOI2021/11378 constitutes a refusal under section 12 for BOTH requests, or just for FOI2021/11378. Had you assigned a reference number to the HM Treasury version of this submission as I requested, then perhaps it would be more clear. As it stands, there has been no further response to the unreferenced request (making it long overdue and breaching the statutory obligation in relation to the time available for an authority to reply), so it is reasonable to draw the conclusion that you ARE combining these two requests and claiming that 'the information I have requested could be contained in over 350 emails', hence the section 12 refusal - is that correct?

I will await your clarification on the above and will also send a reply via the unreferenced request to prompt a response from your team, as that will then establish the position on both and enable me to either narrow the request (for one, or both) as suggested or alternatively, to submit a request for an internal review (again for one, or both). If you could kindly advise how to proceed in relation to both these requests and provide the necessary references in order to properly track the two separate versions, that would be much appreciated - thank you.

Yours faithfully,

Adam Bridgen